INTERVIEW: Basharat Peer on Turkey, India and the new populism

William Armstrong in Hurriyet Daily News:

N_111198_1The Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the India of Narendra Modi are seen as pioneers of a new style of populism. Both President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Modi tap into a simmering reservoir of resentment, historical injury and frustration, directing anger against domestic and foreign “enemies of the people.” With the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the specter of resurgent nationalism haunting Europe, identity populism seems to capture the spirit of the age.

“A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen” by Basharat Peer, a New York Times journalist who grew up in Indian Kashmir, is a slim but illuminating book exploring the parallels between Erdoğan’s Turkey and Modi’s India.

Peer spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News about reporting for the book (reviewed in HDN here), modernization and secularism in Turkey and India, and comparisons between the Kashmir and Kurdish issues.

How and when did you get the idea of writing a book about the direction of these two countries?

I was working in India, writing for various magazines and thinking hard about Modi. I was thinking of doing a whole book about majoritarian politics in India. The rise of Modi was a seminal event in the modern political history of India. There was this man with an extremely controversial past who nobody thought could be prime minister. But he made his moves very well and the old elite was dysfunctional, crumbling and corrupt. Modi was a new challenger who came from one of the richest states, Gujurat, and gave this sense that he was a very competent administrator who knew how to make India shine. But there was blood on his hands: The allegations of his involvement in the massacre of more than a thousand Muslims in Gujurat. It was the biggest televised pogrom in contemporary India and it happened under Modi’s watch. It was very troubling to see Modi gain acceptability, rising to power saying things like: "To run this country you need a 56-inch chest." He had a sense of masculinity and vigor and used his Hindu nationalist credentials to win votes. As all populists do, you use a target or an out group – an ethnic or religious minority that you don't like. In the Indian case it was the Indian Muslims.

One day I was talking to my old teacher at Columbia University, Nicholas Lemann, who was starting a new series of short books. We started talking about Modi and we realized that we were not just talking about one man, but a trend in this crisis of liberal democracy. Figures like Modi don't come from aristocratic origins. They come from the neglected periphery, from humble origins, but use their personal charisma and the historic moment they find themselves in, and often use majoritarian politics and a certain talk about love for the markets and corporate governance.

More here.