By India Today World Desk: The Opposition in Turkiye has united to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has had a two-decade-long hold on power. And the person who is leading the fight is none other than a ‘Turkish Gandhi’.
Voters in Turkiye will go back to polling stations on May 28 for a runoff election after Kemal Kilicdaroglu grabbed 44.9% of the votes and restricted Erdogan from gaining a majority.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the mild-mannered opposition leader, has over the years developed the image of a modern Gandhi and is often called ‘Turkish Gandhi’ or ‘Kemal Gandhi’.
RESEMBLANCE TO MAHATMA GANDHI
The 74-year-old civil servant-turned-politician draws a close parallel with the father of the Indian National Movement, Mahatma Gandhi.
With his slender build, modest style and a moustache, Kilicdaroglu actually looks like Mahatma Gandhi when one looks at the pictures of Gandhi practising law in South Africa and wearing a suit and tie.
He is often called ‘Turkish Gandhi’ or ‘Kemal Gandhi’ not only because of his mild manners or physical resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi, but because of the politics he practices in Turkey.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, Kemal Kilicdaroglu was also born into a well-to-do family with his father serving as a civil servant and his mother a homemaker.
In his daily life, Kilicdaroglu also inculcated modesty and believed in the idea of minimalism like Mahatma Gandhi. He was once heard saying, “We didn’t have a fridge, washing machine and dishwasher”.
SIMILARITIES WITH BAPU’S POLITICS
In his politics too, Kilicdaroglu draws parallels with Mahatma Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi believed in the idea of “Sarv Dharm Sadhbav” (equal respect for all religions and peaceful coexistence of all religions). Kemal Kilicdaroglu also broadened his party’s religious approach and he puts it as “embraced all the different colours in the country”.
In 2017, he went on a 432-kilometre-long march from Turkiye’s capital Ankara to Istanbul against what he termed as the “rise of illiberal populism and in defence of democratic values”.
The march brought to mind the famous Dandi March that Mahatma Gandhi undertook in 1930 to break the salt laws and start the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, Kemal Kilicdaroglu has also survived multiple violent attacks and also had to wear a bulletproof jacket during election campaigns.
THE CONGRESS AND THE CHP
The parallels between Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Mahatma Gandhi don’t end there. There’s a similarity in their parties as well.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s secular, centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) is struggling with similar problems as the Congress in India.
Just as the Congress, which played a role in the freedom struggle and the founding of the republic, claims the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, among several other prominent freedom fighters, so too does the CHP claim the legacy of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk founded the CHP on September 9, 1923.
The CHP, which ruled the country for some 33 years, has not been in government in Turkiye since 1979. This is very similar to the Congress, which is trying to regain its mass connect and popularity after being in power for decades at the Centre.
The runoff election will decide if Turkiye remains under the increasingly authoritarian president Erdogan for a third decade, or can embark on a more democratic course that ‘Turkish Gandhi’ has promised to deliver.
Kilicdaroglu has led a highly positive and uniting campaign, mostly on promises to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other forms of democratic backsliding. It remains to be seen who emerges as the winner in the runoff polls.