The sixth “Operation Dost” flight has landed in Turkey, carrying emergency supplies, rescue personnel, sniffer dog squads, medicine and medical equipment, and other relief material. The devastating earthquake that inflicted huge loss of life and property has thrown normal life out of gear in both Turkey and Syria. Within hours, India responded with disaster relief material which Turkey acknowledged saying, “India was among the first countries to respond when we asked for medical assistance”. Many other countries and international institutions are yet to respond to the calamity.
Meanwhile, all the flags at the NATO Headquarters were flying at half-mast on Tuesday in solidarity with Turkey. Ironically, the tweet refers to Turkey as an ‘ally’ and not a member. Turkey became a member of NATO in 1952 at the height of the Cold War, opting to side with its friends in the West instead of then-Soviet Union. The humanitarian assistance from NATO is yet to arrive in Turkey and probably may not reach Syria.
India has sent emergency relief consignment consisting emergency medicines and equipment including portable ECG machines, patient monitors and other essential medical items to Syria through the Deputy Minister of Local Administration and Environment. The ongoing conflict and geopolitical constraints make it difficult for relief material to reach the needy in Syria. It is all the more important for New Delhi to establish contacts with the Syrian and other international disaster relief agencies to help the needy in remote areas as well.
India’s assistance to Turkey and Syria in the face of a natural calamity of such a great magnitude is part of the country’s tradition of providing humanitarian assistance without expecting returns or following a quid-pro-quo policy. India even proclaimed in the UNGA that “Nations can and indeed must, cooperate to find collective and cooperative solutions to the challenges that disasters represent”.
For Turkey, the disaster comes at a time when the country’s economy is facing headwinds. Subscribing to Islamic banking ideas of not charging interest (Erdogan fancies himself as ‘enemy’ of interest rates), the government slashed interest rates to 9 percent from 19 percent which resulted in the country’s currency to crash in 2021 and then another 30 percent crash last year. Inflation is as high as 85 percent and prices of fuel, food and other items of daily necessity have gone through the roof. Over and above economic problems, Erdogan’s foreign policy included failed attempts to topple Assad’s government in Syria and hosting nearly three-and-a-half million Syrian refugees, adding to social unrest and strain on depleting resources.
Also read: Romio, Rambo, Honey and Julie – these 4 rescue dogs are helping NDRF teams in quake-hit Turkey
Electoral politics carries on
Even as inflation and economic woes are tormenting the population, the political class in Turkey was busy in electoral calculations, permutations and combinations. Turkey was to hold the presidential and parliamentary elections in June this year. But President Tayyip Erdogan in a sudden and surprise move announced that the elections would be held in May, a month earlier than scheduled. This took the opposition by surprise who were said to be forming a larger coalition to approach the largest segment of voters, the first-time voting youth. The opposition appears to be having a tough time fortifying itself against a strong leader who is in power for the last two decades and whose Justice and Development Party (AK Party) with a strong tilt towards radical Islamic views is alleged to be veering away from the secular ethos of Kemal Ataturk.
While natural calamities are unpredictable and greatly affect the economic and social life of the country, the political dispensation has a greater responsibility to show immediate response and handle the situation to the satisfaction of the maximum number of people. If the political establishment fails or allows the creation of a perception of their failure, their political future is in jeopardy.
The 2015 massive earthquake in Nepal killed more than 8,000 people and destroyed more than six lakh homes. Although humanitarian assistance poured in almost immediately, those who suffered most in rural areas were left without relief. Massive earthquakes are usually followed by a series of aftershocks, forcing people to live in the open. These factors led to massive criticism of the government’s handling of the calamity. In the elections that followed, the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) won both President and Vice President polls.
The political shadow boxing totally eclipsed the plight of those hit by the calamity. There are numerous reports on the social, political and economic aftershocks of the 2010 Chilean earthquake.
Erdogan has managed to establish tight control over a large section of the media and also bought over some others through his “rich business friends”. He will enter the electoral fray as president and this will again give him an edge over his opponents who could face a huge financial crunch. He also has a strong party cadre to support his electoral programmes while his opponents are yet to come up with a common candidate and common economic programme.
Whatever the electoral outcome, if and when the elections are held, New Delhi will have to reach out to a wider population of Turkey on their own and establish a vibrant and healthy people-to-people contact. Soft power approach is the ability to reach out to people and countries abroad without using coercion. Humanitarian assistance is yet another tool of soft power.
Seshadri Chari is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)