Madhuvanthi Srinivasan / NEW DELHI

On Aug. 15, India’s Independence Day, Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdoğan tweeted photographs of her meeting with Bollywood actor Aamir Khan. The meeting became a topic of great discussion on social media and mainstream television news in India where people slammed Aamir Khan to have met the Turkish First Lady.

The actor is on a 40-day shooting schedule in Turkey for his upcoming film Lal Singh Chaddha. Enraged Indian netizens began calling for a boycott of his movie because of the meeting. The fury was not confined to general public, alone but institutions and even politicians were critical of the meeting. Vinod Bansal, the national spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said, “Those people whom the Indian audience treated so well & turned them into actors, today they feel proud to meet countries like anti-India Turkey. So, it is quite natural for the Indian audience to feel hurt.” 

“Anti-India Turkey.”

From Nehru and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s vision for a shared future until the not-so warm ties under Modi and Erdoğan, Ankara and New Delhi have had their share of tensions and warmth over the years.

In post-2002 period, despite growing engagement and visits, Turkey’s growing alignment to Pakistan has come in the way of relations getting better. The Turkish political class, particularly President Erdoğan, has been very vocal about Kashmir and Muslims in India. Erdoğan had raised the Kashmir issue and criticized India’s move to abrogate Article 370 in the United Nations General Assembly in 2019. Following Erdoğan’s UN speech, what would have been the Indian PM’s first visit to Ankara, was called off.  

During his visit to Islamabad in February 2020, Erdoğan had drawn a comparison between Galipoli and Kashmir and said, “Turkey will continue to raise its voice for the oppressed.” Turkey also criticized India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) where Erdoğan called “India as a country where massacres of Muslims are widespread.” The Hindustan Times, quoting an intelligence report, accused Ankara of efforts to radicalize Indian Muslims and claimed that Turkey has emerged as a hub for anti-India activities.

But, the world is not all dark and gloomy. There is not one but multiple silver linings in the relations between India and Turkey. The number of Indian tourists to Turkey have exponentially increased over the last few years. Turkey is greatly emerging as an alternate educational hub for Indian students and vice versa. The Turkish and the Indian soft power push, in the way of television soaps and Bollywood respectively, has made people in both the countries have made people realize the cultural similarities they share. 

Former leaders of India and Turkey have made iconic visits to both the countries. Former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, whose visit to India in 2000 was widely publicized, is fondly remembered by Indians as the Turk who loved the Bhagwat Gita. However, the general Indian reaction to the Aamir Khan visit is more or less a reflection of present Indo-Turkish ties hinting towards a lot of fixing that needs to be done.