Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey, and the Future of Secularism
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Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey, and the Future of Secularism
22 November @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm
India and Turkey were the two exemplars of twentieth-century ‘secular states’ outside of the West. Professor Sumantra Bose believes that in the early 21st century Hanafi-Sunni Islamists have decisively taken over the state in Turkey, and in India Hindu nationalists have emerged as by far the leading political force. What explains the collapse, in all but name, of the secular state in Turkey, and its decline in India? Will Turkey’s anti-secular political transformation be replicated in India?
Sumantra Bose draws on his new book, Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey, and the Future of Secularism (Cambridge University Press, 2018) to discuss the current course of events in the two pivotal countries.
The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to join Professor Sumantra Bose about Turkey and India and the rise of religious-nationalist politics in the two historically secular states, and decline of secularism as a salient common feature of the politics of both countries. Signed copies of the book will be available after the event.
Professor Sumantra Bose – is Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Hs many books include Transforming India: Challenges to the World’s Largest Democracy (Harvard, 2013), Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus, and Sri Lanka (Harvard, 2007), Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace (Harvard, 2003), and Bosnia after Dayton: Nationalist Partition and International Intervention (Oxford, 2002). Bose graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1992 and received his PhD from Columbia University, New York, in 1998.
Dr John Hemmings – is Director of Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society and an Adjunct Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Prior to his doctoral studies, he was a visiting fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS and a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, working on Northeast Asia security and defence policies. He has written on foreign and security policy in Northeast Asia for nearly 10 years and had research positions at the Royal United Services Institute and the Asia Foundation. He contributes political analysis to various media, including the BBC, the Telegraph, Fox News, CNN, the Mainichi Shimbun, the Diplomat, and the National Interest; and is a regular on Monocle 24 Radio.
The Henry Jackson Society hosted this discussion on the subject of the decline and erosion of secularism in India and Turkey, respectively. Prof Sumantra Bose, who is a Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics was the key speaker, and Jamila Mammadova was its chair.
His discussion centred around trying to identify reasons for the complete dismantling of the Kemalist secular state in Turkey, and the rise of Hindu nationalism in India. The event started with Prof Bose outlining a working definition of secularism for the sake of the discussion. He commented that secularism in these two countries has the particular characteristic of impartiality, that the state is impartial to all faiths, but is nevertheless excessively embroiled in matters of faith. The second point of excessive involvement differentiates secularism in these countries from models in the west,
and is what makes ‘impartiality’ a tall order. He argued that secularism took shape in Turkey with the Kemalists imposing a very Eurocentric understanding of the concept- authoritatively on the people. On the other hand, secularism in India was democratically imposed, had its roots in Indian tradition of co-existence – and was only the practical necessity for ensuring the unity of a highly diverse country.
He said that the Turkish Kemalist state, by calling for ruptures with tradition and viewing Islam as backward and outlawing the exhibition of religiosity, let the genie of backlash out of the bottle, paving way ultimately for Erdogan’s popularity. The Indian state while upholding the concept of secularism and impartiality imbibed a deeply ingrained bias towards the majority faith of Hinduism, with the state giving in to the demands of Hindu groups, ultimately modelling itself as a ‘soft’ Hindu state. He then spoke of the rise of Hanafi Sunnis in Turkey in 1980s and 90s, and the parallel rise of Hindu nationalists in India around that time. He argued that supposedly secular leaders who gave in to the demands of religious orthodoxy in both countries ultimately lead to their rise. He commented that in the 1980s, the Indian National Congress’s leaders made compromises with Hindutva majoritarianism as part of their broader electoral strategy, leading to the rise of this ideology from the margins to the position it is in today wherein the party that closely represents it, the BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha, and has formed governments- on its own, or with partners- in majority of Indian states.
The discussion was followed by a Q&A session wherein a range of questions were asked covering topics including the Sikh Pogrom of 1984 under ‘secular’ Indian National Congress, EU’s fault with regard to de-secularisation of Turkey, Erdogan and Modi’s personalities, Ataturk’s significance in Erdogan’s Turkey, diasporas and their connect to home-countries, effect of modern education etc.
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