breaking news
  • India, Canada agree to increase discussions on movement of skilled professionals, students
  • Teens Killed In Crash: Roslyn Man Accused Of Driving Drunk, Wrong Way, Fleeing Scene In Jericho
  • George Santos in custody, federal indictment unsealed ahead of first court appearance
  • Australia to focus on strong ties with India, Japan in biggest defence reform
  • Joe Biden, his deputy Kamala Harris launch re-election bid for 2024 US polls
  • Gujarat High Court Judge Opts Out Of Hearing Rahul Gandhi's Appeal

View Details

Erdogan or Erdogone? How India's Opposition could resemble Turkey's Table of Six

In less than a week, on May 14, Turkey goes to the polls, in what is widely regarded could be a watershed moment. The Table of Six, as the coalition of Opposition parties are called, formed last February hope to disrupt two decades of Erdogan's iron-fisted rule. V Sudarshan
Quiz: He is seeking his third term. His regime is known to suppress dissent, stifle public discourse, display scant regard for political rights and civil liberties, pursue political opponents via government agencies and it goes after journalists, students, activists, human rights advocates arresting them by the dozen. His government has a poor economic record and most of his voters vote for him for narrow religious and hyper-nationalistic reasons. Known to be a good orator, he would like the country, slipping on various parameters of democracy, to transform into a monolithic political entity, squelching all Opposition spaces. Intolerant of criticism, his regime is heavily into micromanaging and throttling what is left of free speech online while the mainstream media, some of it controlled by his allies, lies supine and spread-eagled, broadcasting only the thunderous silence of surrender, and his heralders incessantly sing noisy hosannas to the One And Only. And oh, he is soft on Russia and what it is doing to Ukraine. The minority has suffered repression because of the crushing divisive agenda and the bitter polarising. And, he continues unbridled because the squabbling and fractious Opposition cannot get its act together. So who is he, and which is the country? Full marks to you, if you have answered Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The country is Turkey, of course. Last year, a journalist, Sedef Kabas, was arrested and faced a jail term just because she said on television and later tweeted of Erdogan, "When an ox climbs a palace, he does not become a king, instead the palace becomes a barn." Turkish proverb. Thank goodness, the media in India is free enough to let this reporter repeat that of Erdogan. In Turkey, it would not be possible and certainly not worth the risk. Erdogan's chief spokesman termed the comment "irresponsible" and "blatantly insulting our president on television channel with no other goal than spreading hatred".
However, in the Global Democracy Index, we are much higher than Turkey, much, much higher. We are regarded merely as a "flawed democracy", whatever that means and it is probably Western propaganda of the BBC kind. Turkey is way down below, characterised as "hybrid regime", whatever that means, too. We are not there yet, but comparisons, though odious, are now becoming inevitable. Insults to Erdogan are taken seriously. Reuters records "more than 31,000 investigations to this charge" in 2020 alone. Delhi Police have to deal with a lot less.
The Table of Six
In less than a week, on May 14, Turkey goes to the polls, in what is widely regarded could be a watershed moment. The Table of Six, as the coalition of Opposition parties are called, formed last February hope to disrupt two decades of Erdogan's iron-fisted rule. Turkey's Opposition has been time and again beaten to a pulp at the hustings, mainly because they couldn't get its act together. This time, they have united under Kemal Kilicdaroglu who leads the main secular Opposition party, the centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP). There is an Indian connection here too but a slight one, more superficial and absurd than substantial.
Kilicdaroglu has a sobriquet "Kemal Gandhi" or "Gandhi Kemal" whichever comes first, not because he looks like, wait for it, Rahul Gandhi, but because he looks a bit like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi but not as much as Ben Kingsley does with make-up. It is not clear how the sobriquet alone will bolster the poll prospects, either in Turkey or in India, and favourable evidence to that effect in India in the last two elections has been slight.
Will Kemal Gandhi and the Table of Six be able to oust Erdogan from his palace? To get to this has not been easy, given their diverse, sometimes contradictory, agendas and political appeal. Meral Aksener, leader of the Good Party (no joke in this tale of battle between Good and Evil), the second largest in the coalition did not think that the soft-spoken Kemal Gandhi was saleable enough against Erdogan.
She changed her mind only after a complex deal that would allow for not one or two but, by some accounts, possibly as many as seven vice-presidents, should the Table of Six make it to the High Table of the White Palace and thereafter, abolish the presidential form of government. The good news is there are enough rooms in Ankara's White Palace, 1,150 to be precise. But all of us know that sometimes even two in politics is quite a crowd.
Our count of deputy prime ministers is also seven, but not seven at one go. But does that mean, never seven at one go or to put it in Hindi, which would not go down well down South, ek saath sath sath or words to that effect? Although it sounds more like a political helpline than a slogan, less than a year to go before the elections, that question is certainly wide open. How far will the Indian Opposition go to get its act together if unity offers the only way forward?
The Opposition experiment in India
It has been done before. The Janata Party experiment was, in a manner of speaking, successful when the Congress (O), Bharatiya Lok Dal, Jana Sangh, Samajwadi Party got together. They were, it is relevant to point out here, joined by Babu Jagjivan Ram, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy after Indira Gandhi suddenly ended Emergency and declared elections. Political rats always know when to desert a ship about to sink.
Could this same principle apply to, say, Nitish Kumar of Bihar who has slunk away already from the political ship in which he was cruising? Or former Governor Satya Pal Malik, who has now found his voice and compellingly alleged, among other things, that over 40 paramilitary forces lost their lives because of electoral considerations? All we have heard is thunderous silence from official quarters as response. Though Mrs Gandhi derisively called them Congress (Defectors), Jagjivan Ram's party won 28 seats, and he became defence minister and, wait for it, deputy prime minister.
The path to coalition governments often runs through the offices of the deputy prime minister or deputy prime ministers, as the case may be. The Twelfth Lok Sabha saw as many as three deputy prime ministers: Jagjivan Ram, Chaudhary Charan Singh, and Yashwantrao Chavan. None of them completed their terms. All of them wanted to be the prime minister instead of Prime Minister Morarji Desai, a bit like that French comic character Iznogoud created by Rene Goscinny, who keeps saying "I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph."
Similarly, a decade later, there was VP Singh's desertion in 1987, resulting in the Janata Dal, taking a bit from here and a bit from there and with parties that were strictly regional - DMK, Asom Gana Parishad, Telugu Desam Party forming the National Front to defeat Indira Gandhi's son, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1989 but had to seek "outside support" of the Communists. It had taken two years in the making. It lasted less than a year in office but Turkish political enthusiasts may want to note: Devi Lal was deputy prime minister. Not once but twice. It is useful to remember that without deputy prime minister sometimes there can be no prime minister, as his successor, Chandra Shekhar, prime minister for a mere seven months, also found out. This is the takeaway for our readers in Turkey.
It will be difficult to knock it into the thick heads of our political prime ministerial aspirants also: prime minister good, but deputy prime minister better. Otherwise, all else Iznogoud.
Let us consider if the time is ripe. Consider Rahul Gandhi, who sees India as a "union of states" as opposed to BJP's unitarian vision. Theoretically, with Rahul Gandhi evicted from his official residence after what is regarded as a successful attempt to worm his way into the electoral eye via padyatra, and facing the prospect of jail - on grounds considered legitimate possibly only in Erdogan's Turkey - as reward, it could precipitate the start of something big. These are part of the actions seen by a section of the electorate as signs of regime panic, in much the same way as the setting of the ED on BBC or the skirmishes in JNU via Delhi Police when the BBC documentary was aired. Whereas in Kerala, such screening went off without a hitch.
India, like Turkey, has half its population with an average age of less than 30. In other words, first-time voters were born after the incidents of the blurry communal events in Gujarat when Modi was chief minister and have no memory of it. Regime panic? It could lead to one of the many triggers to The Great Tipping Point. No one can point precisely when and how this comes about. Expertise on this is mostly after the fact. This then is the time to pump some numbers into the mythical Index of Opposition Unity. Sharad Pawar, who long ago broke with Sonia (nee Maino) Gandhi over her Hindi accent brought on possibly by too much spaghetti and meatballs on the Old Country, sensed an Emergency-like opportunity five years ago, in 2018. Results showed it up as a proclamation of a false dawn.
Now, with almost half the states, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Bihar, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and possibly Karnataka, Opposition ruled and accounting for 308 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, it might be tempting for the Opposition to begin exaggerating, or at the very least, teasing, the silver lining here. Of these, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP wrested 166 seats. Between now and May 2024 when the elections are due, there remain Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Telangana that will go to the polls. Enough time to figure how to skin this cat.
In the meanwhile, the regime also seems to be doing its own figuring. On April 24, for instance, Income Tax department conducted raids in as many as 50 locations in, of all places, Tamil Nadu, including in the houses of Chief Minister MK Stalin's daughter Senthamarai and son-in-law Sabareesan. This happened after state BJP head alleged graft allegations against DMK. Stalin reminded his tormentors: "I am MK Stalin. This Stalin has faced Emergency and MISA. I won't be scared because of these IT raids. PM Modi should know that we aren't AIADMK leaders. I want to tell Modi that this is DMK, don't forget that, I'm the son of Kalaignar (late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi). I will not be scared."
Political observers will be tempted to note that this could be an attempt by the regime to finesse the situation in 2024, should the numbers seem to fail the BJP. Another regime panic indicator?
The Opposition should take heart from such actions. After all, it was Prime Minister Modi who crowed in Parliament this February 8: "They (the Opposition) should thank the ED. It brought them together. Something voters could not do." North Indian proverb. It means, and this is for those in Turkey and the Dravidian and other such political nether regions: The buffalo belongs to him who owns/wields the stick. 2024 will ultimately tell us who is talking Turkey and who is eating crow. But there will be straws in the wind from Karnataka in five days, on May 13. Days later, Turkey will have its answer.