By Assad Bhuglah

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The leaders of Turkey and India have decided to take the partnership between the two countries to a higher level. This follows from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's official visit to India on 30 April and 1 May 2017 in his bid to strengthen Turkish-Indian relations and help the two countries increase their bilateral cooperation in the near future. Erdogan arrived at New Delhi with a delegation of 150 top Turkish businessmen. The Turkish President held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma in Delhi. Erdoğan's visit to India at this juncture is particularly critical as both Turkey and India represent emerging powers with a strong determination for industrial-technological modernization and socioeconomic development.

There are numerous historical connections between India and Turkey, with the first exchange of diplomatic missions between the Ottoman Sultans and the Muslim rulers of the subcontinent dating back to 1481-1482. More recent historical contacts between India and Turkey were reflected in the medical mission led by renowned Indian freedom fighter, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, to Turkey in 1912 during the Balkan Wars and during the Khilafat movement from 1919-1924. India also extended support in the 1920s to Turkey's War of Independence and to the formation of the Turkish Republic. Mahatma Gandhi himself took a stand against the injustices inflicted on Turkey at the end of World War I. India and Turkey also have a cultural proximity. The Turkic impact on India in areas such as language, culture and civilization, art and architecture, and costumes and cuisine has been considerable. There are also over 9,000 words common in Hindustani and Turkish languages. The Sufi philosophy of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi found resonance in the Indian sub-continent with its own traditions of Sufism and the Bhakti movement. 

India and Turkey are among the 20 largest economies in the world. Both economies have shown remarkable stability. Turkey’s geostrategic location and India’s rising economy made the two countries ideal economic partners. Both India and Turkey have been the lands serving as the cradle of civilizations throughout history. With such exceptional backgrounds, India and Turkey could play very important roles in establishing peace, stability and justice on a regional and global scale. However, for several decades the relations between the two countries have remained static, mainly because Turkey, being a NATO member, sided with the West whereas India had been an active player of the Non- Aligned Movement and a strong ally of the Soviet Union. Much has changed since end of the Cold War period. Today, New Delhi enjoys warm relations with the United States. India, which had shunned the free market economy, is today one of the leading prospective developing economies of the world.  So all the conditions are ripe for rebuilding the friendly ties between Ankara and New Delhi. Revival of relations between Turkey and India started with the advent of AK Party in power and Erdogan’s visit to India in 2008 in his capacity as Prime Minister. This time his visit was in his presidential capacity, hardly few weeks after the referendum that endorsed the presidential system in Turkey.

The bilateral meeting between Erdogan and Modi centered primarily around the issues involving bilateral trade, New Delhi’s bid to be part of Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and the crackdown demanded by Turkey against the institutions linked to Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO) operating in India. Apart from bilateral trade, India’s bid to join the NSG featured as an important subject of discussion from New Delhi’s perspective. NSG is a 48-member international group that regulates global nuclear trade. Turkey, unlike China, is willing to support India’s proposal to be part of the elite nuclear trading group. However, political analysts observe that Turkey could offer conditional support to India on NSG, if the Modi government complies with its demand of cracking down on FETO institutions and functionaries operating in India.

President Erdogan and Prime Minister Modi recognized the need for the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) to reflect the world realities of the 21st century. During the ceremony, President Erdoğan concurred with Prime Minister Modi that the UNSC was not a just representation and criticized its structure in which major global decisions should be made or rejected by the sole decisions of the five permanent members. He condemned the UNSC for being silent in the face of the Syria crisis. President Erdoğan also criticized the Security Council's structure for not having a Muslim member state. Prime Minister Modi agreed with President Erdoğan's argument that the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) must include more members to reflect the diversity of U.N. member states. Prime Minister Modi said the UNSC must represent the values and conditions of the 21 century, not that of the past.

India-Turkey cooperation in fields related to science, technology, education, culture and development areas have massive potential and both countries need each other to achieve their national interests and development goals. Turkey would like to further develop cooperation with India in the IT, high-tech, software, aerospace and renewable energy sectors where India had made “great progress”. Turkish companies can become a significant supplier for India by establishing local partnerships, especially in the fields of agriculture, livestock, consumable goods, the defence industry, petrochemicals, construction materials, furniture and glass products. On the other hand, India is seeing a major push for better infrastructure and Turkish companies can be a part of this massive exercise. India is building more than 30 million homes, developing new airports and sea ports, modernizing its railways, building highways across the country at a rapid pace. Prime Minister Modi invited Turkey to part of this mega development.

President Erdoğan's two-day visit to India not only set a number of goals to boost bilateral trade between Turkey and India, but also outlined plans to carry out trade transactions in local currencies. One of the most highlighted topics of the meetings was that of bilateral trade in local currencies, as both Turkey and India are greatly affected by currency fluctuations.

Turkey is currently striving to diversify its international trade profile heavily which is dominated by the European Union and is looking toward India which carries massive potential, especially by the emergence of a rapidly growing consumer market with a 300 million middle class Indian citizens. Currently, India is Turkey's second-largest trade partner in the Asia. Beyond that, India has a Muslim population of 184 million, which is the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. The Muslims of India should be a bridge of affection and cooperation between Ankara and New Delhi.

To crown up his visit, President Erdoğan received a Degree of Doctor of Letters from the Jamia Millia Islamia University in South Delhi during his two-day visit to India. The degree was awarded in the university's Dr. M. A. Ansari Auditorium. Although symbolic, this event brings the Indian-Turkish relationship full circle by recollecting the medical help Turks received from Dr. M. A. Ansari in 1912 during the Balkan Wars.