Secular States and Religious Politics in India & Turkey

Dr. James Dorsey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, interviews Dr. Sumantra Bose, Professor of International and Comparative Politics, London School of Economics, on his book, Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey and the Future of Secularism.


This transcript is from an interview conducted for the New Books Network by Dr. James Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, of Dr. Sumantra Bose, on his book, Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey and the Future of Secularism, published in 2018 by Cambridge University Press. This has been published with permission.

James Dorsey: I wonder if you could start with a bit of an intellectual history of yourself and how you got to write this book?

Dr Sumantra Bose: Well, although this book has just come out in 2018, globally from Cambridge University Press, it’s actually been on my mind for the past 20 years, since the late 1990s. From the time when I was just about finishing my Ph.D. at Columbia University and was beginning my career at the LSE.

And there is a reason this book has had such a long gestation period. I happen to belong to the generation in India that grew up in India in the 1980s and watched firsthand the gradual erosion and decline of secularism or neutrality in matters of religion on part of the state through that decade.

One of the defining moments of that process of the erosion & decline which many of us had taken for granted until then, was the destruction of the 16th-century Mosque in a small-town, a Hindu pilgrimage town, called Ayodhya in northern India. On December 6th 1992 after several years of agitation, Hindu nationalist militants literally tore down that 16th-century mosque in a frenzied attack that lasted several hours.

The founders of the Indian secular state essentially argued that the post-independence India secular state (after 1950) was simply trying to continue that important, valuable and indeed indispensable (in the practical sense), aspect of India’s historical inheritance and traditions; the everyday tolerance and coexistence of different religious communities. 

Their rationale was that the mosque had been built in the 16th century on the orders of Babar, the founder of India’s Mughal monarchy, on the exact spot where the ancient Hindu deity Lord Ram had been born. Of course, there is no way of either verifying or falsifying this sort of mythological claim.

I remember being in New York in 1992 when the mosque came down and I realized that day that the Indian secular state was under severe challenge and the form of “secular national identity” which we had taken for granted in many cases and which had been dominant in India since the 1920s, long before the emergence of India as an independent country, could no longer be taken for granted.

My interest in Turkey and its politics also dates a long time back to the first half of the 1990s. I happen to have worked a lot on ethnic and ethnonational conflicts and in particular conflicts between states and aggrieved ethnonational groups within those states.

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As many of us might recall it was during the first half of the 1990s that an armed conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish ethnic-nationalist insurgents came to a climax and regularly made headlines.

I was interested in that but gradually realized as the 1990s progressed that it was not possible to make sense of that conflict without first understanding the political history and the circumstances of the formation and development of the Turkish republic established by Mustafa Kemal and his associates in the 1920s. In that process, I came to the explicit realization of something I had known somewhat more vaguely before.

That Turkey was the other exemplar of a non-western secular state other than my own; I am from India originally; that had loudly proclaimed secularism or in the Turkish case strictly speaking Laicism, to be a pillar of its identity since its formation.

Of course, the terminal phase of the decline of the Kemalist secular state hadn’t yet begun in Turkey; it began in the early 2000s. So, I thought the erosion and decline in India and Turkey would be an excellent topic for the comparative study of the secular state and its decline in the non-Western world, with India and Turkey as the examples.

Supporters of the World Hindu Council stand on blocks prepared for making a new temple as they gather for a rally to demand the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

I wrote a book proposal to that effect in the year 2000, but then as things turned out, I never got around to it, because many other academic and non-academic preoccupations intervened. It was only three years ago in 2015, that it suddenly occurred to me, literally one fine morning, that the original project which I had neglected to pursue in the early 2000s was even more relevant and more topical to the time than it had been back then.

Especially with the second coming of the Hindu nationalist movement in India, through the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which literally means Indian People’s Party; winning an unprecedented single majority in India’s parliamentary elections in 2014.

And of course in Turkey since the early 2000s, the gradual but decisive takeover of state power in Turkey, by Hanafi Sunni Islamists professing a very different Turkish Islamic conception of national identity to the original Kemalist conception, with it politics embodied in the AK (Justice and Development) party, and personified by the rather towering figure of first Prime Minister, and since 2014, President Tayyip Erdogan.

I dusted off my original proposal from 2000, made some updates and began afresh. That resulted in writing the book by 2017 and its publication earlier this year. So that’s the intellectual history of this book.

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James Dorsey: Before we delve into what I think is a fascinating comparison between Turkey and India, perhaps you want to go into why you were distinguishing between western and non-western states in terms of secular development

Dr Sumantra Bose: That is a key starting point. The western secular state comes in a number of variants as you know. For example, the American version of the secular state is not the same as the French version. However, what western secular states do have as a common denominator is the principle, whether explicitly or implicitly, of the separation of Church and State.

The famous wall of separation doctrine of distancing the modern state from the domain of religious matters, from religious personnel and institutions. This, of course, is explicit in the historical American conception of the secular state.

The first amendment to the constitution of the United States, which was advanced by James Madison of the Federalist Papers came in 1791, explicitly said that Congress, meaning the bicameral US federal legislature, would permit freedom of religion, but would make no laws establishing a religion i.e. there would never be an official religion and no religious test would ever be required for any public office or position of trust in the United States.

Now, this to me represents throwing the baby out with the bathwater and in any case the history of a millennium, a throusand years of Islan in Anatoliam which actually precedes the rise of the Ottomans as an imperial power, could not simply be ababdoned or forgotten in that way.

About a decade later in 1802, in a letter, Thomas Jefferson reiterated this and used that famous phrase in a ‘Wall of Separation’ between religion and the state.

Of course, the French secular state, perhaps the other major Western secular state that fully came into being by the early 20th century; was different from the American conception, in that it professed to avoid state intervention in the religious sphere but at the same time practised it, quite systematically.

On the other hand, in the American conception, there was an attempt at least to live up to the doctrine of the Wall of Separation. For example, in 1948 the United States’ Supreme Court ruled that religious instruction of any type in the public school system of the state of Illinois was illegal.

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The ruling said, “Separation means separation,” nothing less. But at the same time, even in the French model of the secular state that came into being by the first half of the 20th century, there is this nominal conception though not really practised, of distancing the state from the religious sphere.

The principle way in which the Indian and Turkish secular states of the 20th century differ from this broad western prototype and the most salient common feature of these models is that neither state, either professes or practices any version of this wall of separation doctrine. Quite the contrary, in fact, the Turkish secular state which was established in the 1920s and 1930s was set up as an interventionist state.

A state self-endowed with vast powers of regulation, supervision, control and even outright intervention in the religious sphere. Of course, the proper establishment of the Turkish secular state began in 1924 with the more or less summary, the abolition of the caliphate, after hundreds of years. And on the same date, the caliphate was abolished by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, a new institution essentially replacing the abolished caliphate was set up.

This was an institution which is known in Turkey, a century later, even today as the Diyanet. The Diyanet is the Director General of Religious Affairs, a new office which was attached to the Turkish Prime Ministry, whose head would be appointed by the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic, on the recommendation or approval of the President of the Republic.

And this new institution of religious affairs was endowed with vast powers of supervision, regulation, control and intervention over the religious domain. In India, of course, there has never been a ministry of religious affairs in the same sense, but if you look at the Indian Constitution of 1950 and particularly its articles 25 and 26 in much the same way the Indian constitution gives the Indian republic and its authorities, its leaders, its elites; vast powers of supervision, regulation, control and intervention of the religious sphere.

I think the common theme to this interventionist type of the non-western secular state which was set up in both India and Turkey was a common belief of the founding elites of the two secular states; that the state was the essential agent of modernization.

And that if the respective societies were to make the transition from medievalism to modernity, from obscurantism to progress, from ignorance to enlightenment and all of that, then the state needed to have these powers of control over the religious sphere which was viewed, perhaps to varying degrees, by the founding elites of both states as a realm of backwardness, superstition and reaction.

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James Dorsey: It strikes me that there is one fundamental difference between the Turkish approach and the Indian approach. And you sort of referred to that when you referred to the rise of the Kurdish People’s Workers Party in the 1980s and the ensuing insurgency. And that was that while India remained and developed as a multicultural society, in many ways, while Turkey was trying to mould the new ‘Turk’, basically a new national identity that transcended both religious and national identities and by doing so, in fact, suppressed both of those in an effort to create these new peoples.

Dr Sumantra Bose: Indeed, the differences between the Indian and Turkish cases are as significant as the similarities. The Kemalist vanguard that set up the Turkish secular state in the 1920s and 1930s had a revolutionary agenda.

For example, in 1926 there was a new civil code enacted in a one-party national assembly or parliament completely controlled by Kemal and his supporters which was borrowed from Switzerland’s civil code of 1912. And in 1928 the original Article II of the 1924 Turkish constitution which had stated that “the religion of the Turkish state is Islam” was summarily deleted.

Then after a slew of other reforming measures in 1937, still in Kemal’s own lifetime, the Republic of Turkey has formally declared a Laicist state. This was a breathtaking transformation, and you’re absolutely right, it was an attempt, quite revolutionary in its ambition to create an entirely new conception of Turkish national identity.

In the process, the Ottoman Islamic centuries were consigned to the dustbin of the Republic of Turkey’s history where they more or less stayed until the end of the 20th century i.e. for the next 70 or 80 years until the tables turned in the early 21st century. One might wonder what the motives of the Kemalist Vanguard were, in pursuing this revolution from above or a cultural revolution of sorts, as some authors have called it.

Here I think it is very important to realize that the Turkish Republic and specifically the Kemalist embrace of secularism was part of their agenda of making the Republic of Turkey, established in what was once the core or the heartland or epicentre of the unravelled, vast, sprawling ottoman empire, post-1918; that the agenda was not to simply make the Republic of Turkey, this new nation-state established after WWI, like Europe or like a European country but to make it a member of the community of European nation-states.

This, in turn, stemmed from a very simplistic notion that Europe or the West represented the only form of contemporary civilization and the only path to modernity. It had to be embraced en toto.

Now, this to me represents throwing the baby out with the bathwater and in any case, the history of a millennium, a thousand years, of Islam in Anatolia, which actually precedes the rise of the Ottomans as an imperial power, could not simply be abandoned or forgotten in that way. It is also important to realize this particular Kemalist conception of modernity and the idea of secularism, because it was seen as an intrinsic part of modernity that came with it, was not shared by the people of Turkey at large.

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It was very much the notion of a self-appointed elite vanguard seeking to build a state and to reshape society in the image of that state, so essential top-down secularization of the Turkish Republic had to be imposed and it was imposed at the population at large often using very repressive and indeed draconian methods.

For example, as early as the mid-1920s, the Fez, the headgear of most Turkish since the early 19th century was outlawed and it was made mandatory for Turkish men to wear the Western-styled top hat in public. Protests held throughout the new Turkish republic against this new law were suppressed, there were agitators who were brought to trial and even hanged and this is only one example.

You are right because of the Western-inspired nature of the Kemalist secular state, which lacked an indigenous argument and cultural authenticity, it was necessary to impose that conception on the population at large. So, from the very beginning, this Turkish republic, including its concept of secularism, which is one of its pillars, became embedded with a deeply authoritarian gene. Now India was very different.

In India, there was a two-fold justification which was cited by the founding elites of the Republic of India, which came into being in 1950 for the adoption of secularism as a key principle of the state. Although the term secularism was not explicitly used in the Indian constitution of 1950, it was inserted much later in 1976, via a constitutional amendment.

But from the 1950s onwards it became a commonplace of the official discourse that India was a secular state, really just an impartial or neutral state. And there were two justifications cited for this. First of all, the multi-religious character of India as a country and this was the practical or pragmatic part of the argument for a secular state, that India could not function as a country unless the state was neutral or impartial between the varieties of religious faiths found in India.

The second justification cited for the establishment of the Indian secular state was also perhaps in a way pragmatic, but it harked back to an important aspect of Indian tradition; invoking India’s historical inheritance which was the everyday mutual tolerance and coexistence of diverse religious faiths in the Indian subcontinent down the centuries.

The founders of the Indian secular state essentially argued that the post-independence Indian secular state (after 1950) was simply trying to continue that important, valuable and indeed indispensable (in the practical sense), aspect of India’s historical inheritance and traditions; the everyday tolerance and coexistence of different religious communities.

So, the Indian conception of secularism had nothing to do with any inspiration from Western models. And certainly not any desire to emulate Europe, unlike the Kemalist conception. The Indian conception of secularism had culturally kind of authentic ring to it and this was accepted by more or less entire political spectrum in India back then, barring the Hindu nationalists who were a very marginal force in Indian politics at that time and continued to be marginal for the next four decades until the end of the 1980s.

By contrast, the Kemalist model of secularism was all about authoritarian dictates and imposition. At the end of the day when the Kemalist period of the Turkish Republic came to an end in the early 2000s after 80 years; we are living in the post-Kemalist anti-secular phase for the last 15 years, it turned out that the Kemalist conception of secularism based on this desire to emulate the West, to be a part of Europe, had over seven or eight decades, which is quite a long time – several generations – not been able to convert more than a substantial minority, perhaps a quarter or so of the population of Turkey.

While the Indian secular state did not have the same problem of foreign inspiration, more specifically western inspiration, and the Indian experiment in being a religiously impartial or neutral state with no official religion, developed as part and parcel of a flawed but functioning democracy which gave the Indian idea of the secular state a certain kind of popular legitimacy which the Turkish counterpart did not have and failed to gain over the decades.

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James Dorsey: There are two other differences between India and Turkey that strike me. One is not only the existence of the Diyanat but also the role of the Diyanat, you mentioned it already in terms of control. But it was not only a vehicle of control domestically; it was an element of Foreign Policy that predates the rise of the Islamists and of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Before that the role that it played in terms of trying to control Turkish communities abroad and project some degree of Turkish soft power. The other difference that I see, always struck me that Turkey was in this one respect unique, that in many ways the failure of Kemalism or post-Kemalism is a result of that, and that was, there was an anti-religious undertone to Kemalism. Virtually all states have a moral and ethical yardstick, that is rooted in religion even if it is not dogmatically followed. Turkey was trying to replace that religiously inspired yardstick with Kemalism, as the yardstick and that worked for only a period of time.

Dr Sumantra Bose: Yes and actually those two points are linked to each other I believe. Certainly, the Kemalist conception of Turkish national identity severely downplayed Islam as a shared bond of the people of Turkey. Certainly, after the establishment of the Republic its worth pointing out that during the Turkish War of independence (1919-1922), Kemal himself repeatedly used appeals to religious solidarity to unite particularly the Turks and ethnic Kurds behind the project of establishing a nation-state in Anatolia.

But all of that was rapidly abandoned from the time the republic came into existence. And you’re quite right the Kemalist conception of modernity viewed Islam, in particular, with great scepticism as something synonymous with backwardness and akin to barbarism. And this is very clear in Mustafa Kemal’s own speeches and writings in that formative period.

I think that the Diyanat was set up in order to exercise control and supervision, as this regulatory authority of the emerging secular state, because of the Kemalist suspicion of religion and everything to do with it. So, it had to be carefully controlled in a closely supervised manner, and this was referred to since at least the 1950s onwards by scholars of Turkey, as the control model of the secular state.

The Indian experiment in being a religiously impartial or neutral state with no official religion, developed as part and parcel of a flawed but functioning democracy which gave the Indian idea of the secular state a certain kind of popular legitimacy which the Turkish counterpart did not have and failed to gain over the decades. 

The problem with this strategy was as I said a little while earlier, it was never going to be possible to simply throw out thousands or so years of Islam in Anatolia. Therefore, even after several generations of brainwashing and imposition, the Cultural Revolution that the Kemalists sought to impose on Turkey failed and elicited, in fact, a backlash in the early 21st century in terms of an anti-secular political transformation.

Now what happened in the interim was that by about the 1970s and certainly the 1980s the original Kemalist conception of secularism had frayed. It was well past its prime in fact that process of decline of the pristine Kemalist conception of secularism, which I have tried to outline earlier, began in the 1950s so it was a long retreat for the secular state, which climaxed in the last 10-15 years.

What happened, during the six decades of that long retreat, from the 1950s onwards until the early 2000s, was that the Diyanat which was formed initially to supervise and control the religious domain, became overtime a de facto vehicle for the partition of the majoritarian conception of Turkish religious identity rooted in the Hanafi Sunni form of belief and faith of the majority of the ethnic Turks. Something similar happened in India as well.

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What happened in India was that it was a very tall order that the Indian secular state could consistently practice strict impartiality in its treatment of all religions, that no religion would be treated with either any preference or any excommunication.

It’s clear to me, and I talk about it at some length in my book, that from the formative period – the 1950s – onwards, the Indian secular state harboured an insidious but deeply ingrained majoritarian bias and there was a pattern of elites, including even prime minister Nehru who was an avowed secularist, to give in to various kinds of demands raised by Hindu Nationalist groups; for example, on the issue of total nationwide ban on the slaughter of cows, which continues to be a political issue in India today, so many decades later.

In the 1980s, both in India and Turkey, this growing majoritarian bias of the secular state and the erosion of the principle of impartiality comes to a head. India was ruled by nominally secular Congress governments, headed from 1980 to 1984 by Prime Minister Nehru’s daughter and eventual political successor Indira Gandhi, and from 1985 to 1989, by the assassinated Indira Gandhi’s, elder son and political heir; Rajiv Gandhi.

During that decade, first Indira and then Rajiv Gandhi resorted to de facto Hindu majoritarianism as an electoral strategy and made significant compromises with demands being raised by the Hindu nationalist movement, which was still, very much a fringe movement; for example, on the issue of the Ayodhya mosque controversy that I alluded to at the beginning of this interview.

Turkey’s ruling party elects President Erdogan as leader May 21, 2017.

At the same time, what we see in Turkey in the 1980s, after the third and to-date most repressive and violent Turkish military coup of September 1980, is that the military guardians of the Turkish state while paying lip service to Kemalist secularism and promising to uphold the secular state at all costs, in fact sanctions an alternative ideology – known as the Turkish Islamic synthesis – as a better basis for the frayed Kemalist ideology of national identity which never succeeded  anyway in uniting the people of Turkey because of the defects I alluded to earlier.

And thirty years later, the ideology of hegemonic AK party of President Erdogan is simply a kind of an updated version of the Turkish Islamic synthesis that was promoted by the ostensible secularist military guardians of the Turkish state in the 1980s and into 1990s. So, the point I’m trying to make is two-fold.

First of all, this notion of impartiality was always more myth than reality, an inspiration as opposed to something that was rarely achieved. And down the decades both the Indian and Turkish secular states gravitated more and more towards accommodating majoritarian religious-nationalist conceptions of national identity by implication of statehood.

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The compromises that were made avowedly secular politicians and by equally avowedly secularist military hierarchies of the Turkish armed forces, paved the way for the rise of alternative religious nationalist conceptions.

Secondly, from the political fringes to the center stage, from the 1990s onwards, this book is basically about explaining – as we started out discussing – the erosion and decline of the secular state as a political concept and an institutional reality, in both India and Turkey, and the dramatic rise of the alternative majoritarian religiously-based conceptions of national identity from the margins to the centre stage. That is what I have tried to unravel and explain in this book.

James Dorsey: Does all of this go to explain the rise of religious parties, particularly the Justice and Development party in Turkey as well as the BJP in India, and why in many ways the model of Christian democracy in Europe won’t work in non-western societies like Turkey and India?

Dr Sumantra Bose: That’s a very interesting question. India’s first Hindu nationalist Prime Minister was a man called Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who became India’s Prime Minister very briefly in 1996, then served as Prime Minister for over 6 years heading coalition governments dominated by the BJP from 1998 to 2004. Vajpayee, who died a few months ago in August of 2018, in a way wanted the BJP to shed its extremist tag.

He wanted, I think, to reposition it as an Indian equivalent of moderate right-of-centre Christian Democratic Party, something like an Indian version of CDU in Germany.

That was never going to work because the BJP is one element of a much bigger movement, which includes dozens of affiliated organizations; a student’s wing, a labour wing, a women’s wing, a business wing and so on and so forth, and centred around a core organization called the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) – literally translates to National Volunteer Organization.

And down the deades both the Indian and Turkish secular states gravitated more and more towards accommodating majoritaian religious nationalist conceptions of national identity by implication of statehood. 

The RSS was set up in late colonial India i.e. the mid 1920s and in post-independence India, from the 1950s onwards it became the organizational fount of the Hindu Nationalist Movement. The RSS claims to be a cultural and not a political organization, but this is not at all convincing, because the rationale for the RSS’s existence as the core of India’s Hindu nationalist movement, as an affiliated political party, is the transformation of the Indian secular state, into what is known in their ideology, as a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu state.

Based on the majoritarian conception of an organic Hindu unity, which according to them is a concept shared by 80 percent of India’s people. So, it is an agenda for a completely different ideological basis for the Indian state and that is what is the RSS’s broader movement and ultimately its affiliated political BJP exists for.

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The kind of middle-of-the-road Christian democracy alternating in power usually with left-of-centre social democratic parties, that we have seen in post-WWII Europe, is never going to be really applicable to India in the same way.

This is a deep fault line in India; should it be a state which is based on a secular conception of national identity which sees all faiths as equal in letter and spirit or is it going to be a state, based on this majoritarian conception of organic Hindu unity, that according to that concept is shared by 80% of the population; barring the non-Hindu religious minorities of which Muslims are the single largest element.

In Turkey, the problem is a little bit different and this goes back to the authoritarian nature of the Turkish state and India is, of course, a highly evolved democracy with many flaws and wants, but is a functioning democracy. Turkey despite its democratic trappings is deeply infused with illiberal authoritarian attributes from the foundation Kemalist period.

What happened in Turkey in the last 15 years, in the post-Kemalist phase and the consolidation of AKP and particularly Erdogan’s personal rule; is that old ideological and institutional apparatus or paraphernalia of “secular” authoritarian state has been taken over by the Islamist counter-elite, who have successfully challenged that secular model of state establishment.

Secular States and Religious Politics
Modi and Adityanath

That Islamist counter-elite has moulded the old authoritarian state to its own preferences, and there is a lot of talk of semi-authoritarianism of Erdogan’s rule, of his party’s now hegemonic supremacy in Turkey’s politics and that is really a carry-over from the Kemalist phase. It’s just that the personality cult of Ataturk has been replaced by the personality cult of Erdogan.

Secularism or laicism is no longer emphasized as the key attribute of the state, otherwise, it is the same in terms of opposition, pluralism and indifference in all its forms. The zero-sum winner-take-all approach to politics that is typical of the authoritarian or semi-authoritarian polity as opposed to democracies.

So, to answer your question, for different reasons in India and Turkey, we cannot weave a situation, where nationalism would augment the Indian version of Christian democracy, as we know in Western Europe it was a bulwark of the reconstruction of democracy post-1945 in many different countries.

Nor is it going to work because Turkish political context, political heritage and political culture are so fundamentally different. And the Islamist alternative that has displaced Kemalism as the ruling ideology and the ruling authority of the Turkish state is as illiberal and undemocratic as its Kemalist predecessor.

It is simply that the bottle is the same, the label has changed and the potion inside the bottle is a bit different as well but it is as obnoxious, in the sense of being intolerant of difference, dissent and disagreement as its Kemalist predecessor.

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James Dorsey: This may go beyond what you can address, but it seems to me that maybe the one exception to this rule is Al-Nahdha, in Tunisia, the Islamist party that seems to be going down a Christian Democratic road than for example either the AKP or the BJP.

Dr Sumantra Bose: Yes, I think there is a need for Tunisian exceptionalism but exceptions don’t prove the rule. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the contest between nominal secularists and Islamists is seen sometimes; even sometimes in Turkey, which is sort of a hybrid regime with kind of a democratic layer on top of an authoritarian foundation.

The case that comes to mind is Egypt, where of course, it has been seen as a kind of zero-sum competition between the Egyptian Brotherhood on the one hand & the Egyptian military on the other. It’s very interesting that in India of course, the Hindu nationalists have participated in electoral politics since the very beginning.

The BJP was launched on the eve of India’s first general election in 1951 to compete in the Indian electoral area and represent the Hindu nationalist viewpoint, in its elected institutions, both at the national level and in the states of the Indian union. So, in that sense, India’s Hindu nationalists have always partaken in India’s democracy.

But the ultimate goal has been the transformation of the Indian state into something that is in accordance with their ideological conception of Indian national identity, which is rooted in the political concept of Hindutva, which was elaborated in the 1920s and the 1930s first by an activist called Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and later in the late 1930s, it was further elaborated by Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar who actually built the Hindu Nationalist movement as the head of the RSS from the early 1940s until his death in 1973.

So, it’s a peculiar positioning if you read Sadashiv’s books, what is clear is that a transformation of the Indian state, in the way that Hindu nationalists want it to happen, has to happen through democratic means through the consent of the people.

It cannot happen as it happened in Egypt, a few years ago with kind of a counter-revolution, a military coup and a reassertion of the pre-2011 status quo. In Turkey, the revolution of Erdogan is famous because Turkey does have certain superficial democratic attributes, although its political system and culture is as I said fundamentally infused with illiberal attributes.

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I think that what Erdogan has, in fact, practised very successfully what I would characterize as a plebiscitary model of politics. You will have noticed that especially in this decade, the second decade of the 21st century; all Turkish elections, whether parliamentary or presidential, various referenda that have taken place since 2014, all have a plebiscitary character, in which its Erdogan’s personal authority is put up basically for a YES or a NO. So far in all these contexts, Erdogan has prevailed albeit narrowly.

What we have in India is an ascendant and indeed politically dominant Hindu nationalist movement which today governs two-thirds of the 29 states of the Indian union at the moment at least, but which has to achieve its ideological goal; that grand agenda of transformation of the Indian state in accordance with the Hindutva or the Hindu Nationalism by democratic means through the electoral arena.

In Turkey, we also have the use of the electoral arena because Turkey is not a fully authoritarian country but more of a hybrid regime, where Erdogan has used a highly personalized and plebiscitary strategy, in order to first advance and now preserve his personal power and its underlying ideological anti-secular conception of Turkish national identity and the Turkish state.

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