Comparison: India and Turkey

The Modi-Erdogan parallel

While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not achieved the degree of "state capture" that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has, he is also 11 years behind. The path the two leaders are on, however, is similar enough to invite comparison – and provoke concern. By Shashi Tharoor

Comparisons are generally invidious, especially when they involve political leaders from different countries. Yet, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to power 11 years before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is much about their personal and professional trajectories that makes comparison irresistible.

Both Erdogan and Modi come from humble, small-town backgrounds: Erdogan sold lemonade and pastries in the streets of Rize; Modi helped his father and brother run a tea stall on a railway platform in Vadnagar. They are self-made men, energetic and physically fit – Erdogan was a professional soccer player before becoming a politician; Modi has bragged about his 142-centimetre chest – not to mention effective orators.

Both Erdogan and Modi were raised with religious convictions that ultimately shaped their political careers. Erdoganʹs Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Modiʹs Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have both promoted a religiously infused, nationalist creed that they argue is more authentic than the Western-inspired secular ideologies that previously guided their countriesʹ development.

The modernist bandwagon

Yet, to win power, Erdogan and Modi did not count exclusively on religious voters. Both campaigned on modernist platforms, arguing that by implementing business-friendly policies and reducing corruption, they could bring about greater economic prosperity than the establishment they sought to supplant.

Here, Erdogan and Modi press both the past and the future into service. Erdogan extols the Ottoman Empireʹs legacy, while telling voters that they are not only "choosing a president and deputies," but also "making a choice for our countryʹs upcoming century." Likewise, Modi constantly evokes the achievements of ancient India, which he claims to be reviving in the name of creating a better future.

Religious nationalist Erdogan supporters (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Where are the dynamic, future-oriented agents of change? Having ridden to power on modernising agendas, Erdogan and Modi have since consolidated their respective positions by glorifying the past, promoting a religiously infused, nationalist creed that they argue is more authentic than Western-inspired secular ideologies

In short, Erdogan and Modi have consolidated their power by glorifying the past, while portraying themselves as dynamic, future-oriented agents of change – heroes galloping in on white stallions, swords upraised, to cut the Gordian knots holding their countriesʹ down.

Narrative of common resentment

At the same time, Erdogan and Modi have painted themselves as political outsiders, who represent the "real" Turks or Indians long marginalised by cosmopolitan secularists. With popular discontent high when they rose to power, such political messaging fell on receptive ears. The narrative of resentment against the established secular elites, peppered with religious-chauvinist discourse and historical revisionism, facilitated their emergence as voices of the middle classes of the hinterlands and second-tier cities and towns.

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