Hounding of Indian journalists by BJP mirrors Turkey's crackdown on media

Simultaneous abuse of the religion in majority and stoking of nationalist sentiments by the ruling regime must alarm us.

 |  4-minute read |   08-03-2017
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Turkey leads the world in jailing journalists, it has shut down thousands of educational institutions and also jailed over a dozen sitting opposition members of Parliament.

The country that was once known as the shining star in the Middle East is hardly different from the most troubled parts in the region today.

There is an absurd trend in Turkey, which is largely to be blamed for this utterly appalling state of affairs - and that is the government's effort to justify despotic crackdown on political opponents on the pretext of protecting the people, flag, state, nation and more ridiculously, Islam.

Every criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) is equated with targeting the integrity of the Turkish state and plotting against the adherents of Islam: Muslims.

It is for this reason the Turkish regime draws criticism and loathing from democratic forces both within and outside Turkey.

turje_030817101859.jpg Protestors carry placards during a demonstration to support arrested German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel outside theTurkish Embassy in Berlin, Germany, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Though India is not in Turkey's proximity and has little similarity with it, political developments here are increasingly mirroring the characteristics of politics under Erdogan's regime.

Despite the fact that Narendra Modi leads a Hindutva-rooted BJP government, his tactics fit perfectly in Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AKP government's model of abusing religion and drumming up nationalist sentiments simultaneously.

Curiously, critical journalists in Turkey as well as India face the allegation of being against the majority religion in their respective countries and also of betraying their nations.

Few of them, who are presumed to have a Left-liberal leaning, are often referred to as "anti-Hindu" and "anti-nationals" in glaring similarity to the vilification of Turkish journalists like Can Dundar and Ahmet Sik who are called "anti-Islamic" and "traitors".

What is common among these Turkish and Indian journalists is their staunch advocacy of secularism and liberal democracy.

Surely, outright lies are circulated against them in order to create negative public opinion about them - but on ideological ground, it is their resistance of right-wing, majoritarian politics that makes them vulnerable to accusations of having antipathy towards the majority religion in their countries.

And the factor that bolsters the layperson's perception of them as "anti-nationals" is their relatively balanced or unsensational approach towards their countries' relationship with regional rivals.

Hence, Indian journalists' criticism of the government's policies towards Muslims is portrayed as their "hatred" towards Hindus, and their measured criticism of Pakistan is exploited to brand them "anti-nationals".

This is precisely how Dundar's or Sik's fight for protection of Alevi or Christian rights in Turkey is manipulated to present them as "anti-Islamic", and their warm relationship with Europe is blown out of proportion to denigrate them as "traitors".

That the ongoing government abetted trolls against a 21-year-old Delhi University student, Gurmehar Kaur for saying her martyred father was not killed by Pakistan but by war is a stark reminder of a vicious attack launched against a Turkish television celebrity, Beyazit Ozturk for giving airtime to a teacher who famously said "children should not die" in clashes between the army and Kurdish militants in early 2016.

The BJP government's hysterical response to Kaur's proclamations as well as that of the AKP government's to Ozturk's response serves one primary purpose: to demean a conciliatory/dovish approach towards the perceived enemy.

In Turkey's case, such a tactic has ensured that the Kurdish insurgency in the country continues unabated, which has consequently suspended democratic debates on Kurdish rights and resulted in people rallying behind the AKP government, uncritically.

The BJP government in India, too, seems very much interested in banking on the dispute with Pakistan to crush dissenting voices within the country and consolidate its support base by keeping the hawkish narrative alive.

Why else would a first year Delhi University student be bullied by not only right-wing trolls but also by some cabinet ministers in the BJP government for taking a pacifist stand?

There is another reason why India's dispute with Pakistan hardly takes a back seat in the mainstream political discourse.

The BJP knows very well that the issue not only has a nationalist connotation, but also a religious one.

Charged with having a soft corner for Pakistan, the defendants not only stand accused of being "anti-nationals", but also "anti-Hindu".

It is this simultaneous abuse of the religion in majority and stoking of nationalist sentiments by the BJP government — as the AKP government does — that must alarm Indians, so long as India does not want to rival Turkey in jailing journalists and opposition MPs, or shutting down educational institutions.

Also read: BJP disowning ‘ISI spy’ Dhruv Saxena is Hindutva hypocrisy at its worst

Writer

Mohammad Behzad Fatmi Mohammad Behzad Fatmi @behzadfatmi

Political writer and commentator. He writes widely in the Indian and international media, mainly on Turkish politics.

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