New momentum in Turkish-Indian ties

New momentum in Turkish-Indian ties

India is a country which is among the fastest growing countries in the world. The IMF and the World Bank forecast more than 7 percent annual growth for the next few years. With a population of 1.3 billion, which is set to pass China by 2050, it is a country that has gone to space and is a rising naval power with a nuclear submarine.

So when Turkey is aiming at reaching out to far-away regions, India is definitely a country Turkey has to place at the top of its Eurasian radar. It is not a country Turkey should ignore because it is far away and there are no bilateral problems.

Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won elections in 2014. Since then, he has met with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, twice (both at G-20 summits) before the latter’s visit to India last week. On July 16, 2016, even when some Turks were still trying to understand the real dimensions of the previous day’s failed coup attempt, Modi took up the phone to reach Erdoğan to convey his message of solidarity.

Knowing their affinity for religion and economic development, it was not hard to guess that there would be good chemistry between the two. That’s probably why Modi has agreed to address a Turkish-Indian business forum, something he rarely does (the United States, Japan and France s being exceptions).

The total trade volume between the two countries stands at a mere 6.6 billion dollars, 90 percent of which is in favor of India. The two countries have duly agreed to raise it to 10 billion dollars by 2020.

Some 350 million middle-class Indians whose purchasing power has increased in the last decade are the most important target for Turkey, according to sources familiar with India. 

One area to tap the potential is the construction sector, as the new middle class is extremely interested in new types of residences. Turkish construction sectors can use their comparative advantage in the absence of an important rival, the Chinese, who can’t enter the market due to political reasons.

Modi pledged to build 100 smart cities when he came to power. His call to the Turkish business community, which was represented by around 160 businesspeople at the forum, for them to build together should encourage Turks who have been rather slow in unlocking one of the biggest markets in the world.

Another area to tap is tourism. Making Turkey a wedding destination for Indians is important not only in terms of compensating for the losses the sector has seen in the last few years but also in terms of taking advantage of the seasonal differences, given that the European low season coincides with the holiday season in India, enabling Turkish touristic venues to operate 12 months a year. 

Erdoğan’s visit has created momentum. It is important, however, to keep such momentum. India is too big a market to only show it occasional interest. In that respect, the Turkish side expects to continue the momentum with a visit by Modi to Turkey.

India, Turkey, Pakistan 

It appears that while improving relations, Turkey is showing the utmost attention to avoid causing resentment with Pakistan, India’s arch enemy. “We are friends and we will remain friends with Pakistan,” a Turkish official told his Indian counterparts.

The relations will not overshadow relations with India, the official added, giving India’s relations with Palestine and Israel as an example. India has always been supportive of Palestinians and only recognized Israel in 1992. Modi will be the first prime minister to visit Israel on the 25th anniversary of the official relations. “Will that visit affect India’s traditional support for Palestine?” the official asked.

Putin, Trump, Modi, Erdoğan

Looking at the international media, you see U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Modi and Erdoğan frequently uttering the same sentence. Their ruling styles appear as a common feature, but I am not exactly sure that this is something Turks should be proud of.

Modi and Erdoğan are leaders of secular countries with Muslim populations. Yet their nationalism and religious slant place them in an interesting position. While Kurds among others have become Erdoğan’s target, Muslims have become the target of Modi’s nationalism in India.

When you think of Turkey’s aspiration to be the voice of all Muslims around the world, one wonders how relations will fare accordingly.

“We are very attentive to our sensitivities,” was all I got from an official familiar with Indian- Turkish relations.