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Published on: Feb. 28, 2023, 2:44 p.m.
Soft power in Turkey
  • The Indian team worked 24x7 to provide relief to the affected people

By Business India Editorial

India has begun its presidency of the G20 and the underlying theme of One World, One Family, One Future in the right spirit, by sending rescue and relief assistance to Turkey and Syria after the earthquake that killed thousands in the affected areas of both countries, more on the Turkish side. Besides, Turkey too is a member of G20.  It was also in keeping with India’s best tradition of being an early responder to natural disasters and calamities in its immediate neighbourhood, and of late, in other parts of the world as well.

While New Delhi has stepped in with assistance frequently in the South Asian region, barring Pakistan for obvious reasons, it also reached out with relief supplies and teams from the National Disaster Relief Force and the army medical corps to Japan during the tsunami in 2011 and to the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This time, a number of Indian flights landed in Turkey, carrying emergency relief supplies and medical help. 

For Turkey, Operation Dost came at a critical time as such was the devastation wrought by the earthquake. Search and rescue teams from the NDRF, medicines, equipment even vehicles and trucks, not to forget sniffer canines, were airlifted by Indian Air Force C-17 heavy lift transport aircraft from the Hindon air base near the national capital to the Adana airport in Turkey. An army field hospital in Iskenderune started functioning with running medical, surgical and emergency wards, x-ray labs and medical stores.

The Indian team worked 24x7 to provide relief to the affected people. This was India’s soft power at work, never mind the fact that India and Turkey have not been on the best of terms, of late. Turkey chose to side with Pakistan when India revoked Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir in 2019. India criticised Turkey when its forces invaded Syria in the Kurdish regions. However, when India grappled with the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, Turkey sent two planeloads of relief aid in the form of oxygen concentrators, ventilators and medicines.

India has now reciprocated in ample measure. Incidentally, Turkey was hit by the earthquake at a time when its economy is facing headwinds, some of which are of its own making. Taken in by the Islamic banking ideas of not charging interest rates, the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government slashed interest rates to 9 per cent from 19 per cent, which resulted in the country’s currency to crash in 2021, as well as last year. Inflation is currently as high as 85 per cent and prices of fuel, food and other items of daily necessity have gone through the roof.

Over and above the economic problems, Erdogan’s foreign policy misadventures like failed attempts to topple Assad’s government in neighbouring Syria and hosting nearly three-and-a-half million Syrian refugees had added to social unrest and strain on depleting resources.

  • For Turkey, Operation Dost came at a critical time as such was the devastation wrought by the earthquake

The economic downslide has been further queered by the political ferment in the country. Erdogan has been in power for the last two decades and his Justice and Development Party has now espoused radical Islamic views, moving away from the secular ethos of Kemal Ataturk. In a sudden and surprise move, Erdogan recently announced that the elections would be held in May, a month earlier than scheduled. This took the Opposition, who were said to be forming a larger coalition to approach the largest segment of voters, the first-time voting youth, by surprise.

In a way, the political situation in Turkey is akin to that of India. Erdogan, who is now again entering the electoral fray as President, has managed to establish tight control over a large section of the media and has no dearth of resources garnered through his backers in the business sector. This will again give him an edge over his opponents, who are facing a financial crunch. He also has a strong party cadre to support his electoral programmes. His opponents, on other hand, are yet to come up with a common candidate, a common economic programme or even a coherent political strategy.

Whatever the outcome of Turkey’s elections be, if and when they are held, India would be seen as a helping and humanitarian country. It has made an impact on the people of Turkey. This is an example of astute diplomacy being deployed to make people-to-people contact and reach out to people and countries, without using military and economic coercion. Humanitarian assistance as a tool of soft power, which India can also think of deploying in crisis-prone Pakistan, as it is grappling with a series of crises, the latest being the debilitating debt crisis for which it has to rush to the IMF.  But will Modi make this move before the 2024 election?

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