Türkiye-India ties have a bright future ahead

The bilateral relationship of Türkiye and India has yet to reach its full potential, there is still huge room for further advancing the bilateral cooperation.

Türkiye-India ties have a bright future ahead

Think of two nations with an accumulation of a significant history of civilizations that have managed to become two modern nation-states. Both Türkiye and India have managed to making of a unique modern state and society. The founder of the Republic of Türkiye Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (father of Turks) built the modern, liberal, secular and democratic nation, while Indians, led by most prominently Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, stood against the imperialism and established their unique nation.

Both nations have a deep-rooted historical and civilizational bonds. The Indian financial support to the Turkish National War of Liberation, which also later inspired India’s independence movement, has still taken as a special reference to Türkiye’s bilateral ties with India. Today, one of the central avenues in Delhi is named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; the two of Ankara’s central avenues are named after Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. India’s iconic poet and philosopher (Gurudev) Rabindranath Tagore as well as Türkiye’s great Sufi mystic Mevlana Jalaluddin al-Rumi is the two of the significant values of the Türkiye-India deep bonds. The 41 books on Turkish literature and culture that were gifted by Atatürk have still remained the prized possessions of the library of the Visva Bharati University founded by Tagore, while the former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit translated Tagore’s masterpiece Gitanjali into Turkish language that have contributed to an abiding fascination for Indian culture and philosophy in the Turkish society.

Türkiye-India bilateral relations

The Türkiye-India bilateral relations is a standalone relation where both should look directly at each other. Instead of focusing on differences, bilateral connections should be convergence of views driven. Previously, Türkiye has been supportive of India’s observer status at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as India’s participation at Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Moreover, Türkiye has been a firm believer in the expansion of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and accordingly, of India’s call for reform, while aptly voicing the motto of "the world is bigger than five", coined by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Since the very beginning, both nations are quite sensitive to the Palestine problem for which they are both willing the two-state solution. Furthermore, they meet on common ground on the issue of Afghanistan, where their overlapping interests are ranging from development to security, and where they have made an immense contribution over the years. Besides, Türkiye has mediated between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir conflict and been supportive of the dialogue between the two countries.

Turkish society is keen on understanding and engaging in India, while the Turkish firms strive further benefit from the opportunities the Indian private sector and governmental initiatives on trade and investment such as Make in India, Smart Cities Mission present. The Indian culture holds a palpable curiosity for Turks, while Turkish culture gains flourishing popularity for Indians. One of the Turkish TV channels, Kanal 7, is mostly dedicated to Turkish-dubbed Indian dramas, as well as the Bollywood films are frequently broadcasted on TRT 1, Türkiye’s first national TV channel, and likewise Turkish dramas are so popular among Indian audiences. The Turkish Language and Literature Program at Jamia Millia Islamia University, one of the leading universities in India, under the aegis of the Turkology program has been carried out by Türkiye’s cultural centre Yunus Emre Institute since 2006-2007. Establishing the first Indian Research Centre in Türkiye’s Sufi city Konya in December 2021 is another string that binds the countries.

The fruitful tourism and trade interactions have injected new momentum into the Türkiye-India bilateral relations. Being one of the first countries in the world to introduce the Safe Tourism Certificate Program for the tourism industry since the mid of 2020 and emerging as one of the top destinations for free independent travelers (FIT) and meeting, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) tourists from around the world, and also becoming a very favorite location for Indian weddings and Bollywood filmmakers, Türkiye welcomed over 230 thousands of Indian tourists in 2019, the highest recorded to date, and received over 50 thousand Indian visitors in 2021. Additionally, aiming to host 1 million tourists from India by 2023, Türkiye witnessed at over 27,300 Indian travelers in this year June alone.

Trade between the two countries

Given the trade links of the two nations, Turkish President Erdogan’s latest visit to India along with strong business delegations in May 2017 marked as a huge contribution to the revival of the bilateral trade. While the trade volume between the two countries has achieved a steady growth recently, the bilateral trade volume surpassed 9 billion dollars at the end of 2021, of which about 1.5 billion dollars are exports of Türkiye. Turkish Airlines plays a big role to fuel increased trade between the two countries, besides tourism interactions. To increase the number of mutual tourists and foster people-to-people engagement between the two countries, Turkish Airlines and IndiGo have a codeshare partnership since 2018.

Currently, both nations have been redefining their engagements regionally and globally, while both are eager to be self-sufficient in defense and technologic issues. Bilateral relations have even managed to find a common ground amid sour times caused by some misunderstandings. In early 2020, India contracted with a 2.3 billion dollars deal to manufacture fleet support vessels (FSVs) in collaboration with TAIS, a consortium of Türkiye’s top five leading shipyards. In late 2020, a defense ministry-related work in Atal Tunnel on the Leh-Manali Highway was completed by Savronik, a Turkish tech firm.

The bilateral relationship of Türkiye and India has yet to reach its full potential. There is still huge room for further advancing the bilateral cooperation. Indeed, Türkiye and India offer many cooperation opportunities to each other in key issues from commerce and investment to infrastructure/connectivity and tech/science, and on common challenges from climate change and UN reforms to maritime security and terrorism. India has a special place in Türkiye’s Asia Anew Initiative, while Türkiye will most likely find its special place in India’s Look West policy. Once the both nations not to allow their differences and external factors to dominate their relations and understandings, a bright future shall be waiting for the bilateral ties pumped through historical-cultural bonds and tourism-commercial links.

AA/Dr. Duygu Cagla Bayram

Hüseyin Demir