Construction of majoritarian politics and patronage relations

This section highlights the adaptation of majoritarian politics with which, 1 argue, the constituencies of the AKP and the BJP are entitled to a certain degree of primacy. The Sunni Turkish and Hindu identities are re-constructed to consolidate the power of the political parties in question over Indian and Turkish polity. In the absence of the politics for alternative voices, there is little surprise that relying on the identity of the majority (Sunni Turk and Hindi) renders the elections as expected. India and Turkey are both good examples showing that once politics has been reduced to the religious/ethnic identity by the political parties in power, the election may become a plebiscite for the party who represents the majority.

All of the arguments presented in this section should be taken to conclude that majoritarian identity politics are a major factor in the success of the political parties in question. From the CPE perspective, the majorities cannot be seen as fixed since they are outcomes of cultural-cum-political projects. The historical course here demonstrates that the construction of the majority is very implicit in the state building processes of India and Turkey. This is to imply that the success of the BJP’s and the AKP’s majoritarian political lines stems from the tenets of the foundation of both republics.

Those who suffer from the ongoing majoritarian identity politics are minorities, against whom coercion, intimidation and violence has become normalized. In the 2014 elections, few Muslims were nominated from the BJP and none of them were elected. As underlined by Chatterji et al., “consequently, for the first time in Indian history, the winning party in general elections had no Muslim in its parliamentary group in the Lok Sabha” (2019: 4). Similarly, minorities in Turkey are defined vis-à-vis an Islamic-conservative identity. Those who do not identify with the Islamic conservatism are disadvantaged in several frontiers of political relations. Above all, they are selectively underprivileged in their access to the state under AKP rule (Babacan, in this volume). The change of the status of the Alevis could be taken as an example: the relevant literature suggests that their rights and power have been curbed under AKP rule (Karakaya-Stump, 2017).

The project of a nation state of Turkey was predicated on an imagined Muslim Turkish identity as a political outcome of the late Ottoman era (Keyder, 1987: 65). Within the project of the nation state, only those who adopted a Muslim Turkish identity were accepted as equal citizens. It is noteworthy that Islamists have always been a part of the landscape of Turkish politics, even though secular reforms were carried out in the foundational years. Islamists had a reasonable constituency base and they have been occupying positions in the state apparatus from the very beginning (Lord, 2018).

However, the rapid rise of Islamist politics corresponds with the political settings of the post-1980 coup d’état, which attempted to root out leftist organizations from the popular classes, hereby paving the way for neoliberal reforms. As Onis discusses, “[t]he key element in the strategy of the military was to weaken the political power of left, which they regarded as the major source of potential conflict and disorder in the post-1980 context” (Oni§, 1997: 750). The tanks rolled through and created a political void, especially in the squatter settlements, which would be later filled by Islamist activists. The decline of class politics in the post-1980 period brought about a political setting in which political parties and organizations constructed consistencies of those whose ethnic or religious identities have been imagined by exhibiting a homogenous character. It is no wonder that right-wing conservative parties began to compete for the support of those who identify as Muslim/Sunni Turks. Sectarian and national conflicts became salient in this period.

Yet, the coup was an attempt to go beyond coercion (Yalman, 2002: 22-3). The newly designed power bloc was motivated to gain consent by provoking a discourse based upon the “Turkish—Islamic synthesis”, which was efficacious in consolidating the power of the junta regime. The dominant discourse opened up a political space for Islamists, whose ideas resonated more broadly in pol-itical and civil society (Bose, 2018: 9). Islamist politics in general have especially benefited from the proliferation of Imam-Hatip schools since the 1970s. These schools are vocational schools allegedly designed to train government employed imams, but have become sites where Islamist parties and organizations recruit activists. Today, key positions in state institutions are swarmed by their alumni who are politically and ideologically close to the AKP (Babacan, in this volume).

In the case of India, the BJP’s Hindutva (Hinduness) imaginary has been predicated upon the construction of the Hindu imaginary embellished with religious values. The Hindu imaginary has been largely fashioned by Hindu reformers in the late nineteenth century. As put by Arundhati Roy, “until then, they had been used by the British as well as the Mughals, but it was not the way people who were described as Hindus chose to describe themselves” (Arundhati, 2014: 55).

The Indian National Congress Party became the uncontested leader of the Indian independence movement and the dominant party after achieving independence in 1947. Most of its influential cadres were secular. Jawaharlal Nehru, for instance, demonstrated his distaste in The Discovery of India, writing “with all goods they [religions] have done, they have also tried to imprison truth in set forms and dogmas, and encouraged ceremonial practices which soon lose all their original meaning and become mere routine” (Nehru, 2010: 567). Yet the Hindu identity has been an integral part of the Indian National Congress Party, regardless of the secular character of Congress leadership. The construction of the Hindu identity has also been promoted by Congress in order to widen its local support base. Congress has never been hesitant to provoke sensitivities with regards to religious identities (Vanaik, 2017).

The influence of religion on the party was largely due to Gandhi. This influence made the party popular, especially in rural areas of India. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj (later translated in English as Indian Home Rule) could be seen as an articulation of religion in regard to the independence movement. The injection of religion into the independence movement in India broadened the support base of the movement. Additionally, Gandhi’s articulation of religion contributed to the nation state building process: a single consolidated territorial entity of India was ascribed with a certain identity built on religion. As dexterously put by Anderson,

At a personal level, he was perfectly sincere in holding that all religions were equal before the Lord. At a political level, one religion was, inevitably, more equal than the other. Hinduism was indigenous to the subcontinent, and peculiar to it. Islam was neither.


The Congress shared (and is still obdurately sharing) nationalistic and religious ideas with the BJP. As noted by Chatterji et al., “the sense of Hindu majority being the dominant force at the heart of the Indian nation has been evolving throughout the twentieth century and has also found support among Congress leaders even as they refrained from speaking of it openly” (2019: 10). Yet this nationalism was less aggressive in comparison to the BJP, considering Congress’ attitude towards minorities. Similar statements can be made for Congress’ attitude towards secularism. Enthusiasm for the Nehruian way of secularism has been abandoned by the Congress party as they have already broken the rule of dharmnirpekshta, the State’s equal treatment of all religions. As put by Jaffrelot, “even before Hindutva forces began attacking India’s secular tradition, the Congress Party had already started undermining secularism by cynically jockeying for the support of different voting blocs and by stoking divisive issues of social identity” (2019: 51).

Even though the Congress has never been equally distant to all religions, it cannot compete with the BJP, which never shies away from rhetoric that polarizes communities. Congress’ political course and favourable attitude towards the Hindu majority has never been seen as sufficient by Indian nationalists who are craving discernible preferential treatment for Hindus. Saffron, the colour of Hindu nationalism, has become more attractive among upper castes since the rise of the anti-Muslim sentiments, and these upper castes have provided a political atmosphere with which they can identify themselves. Yet the more upper castes have deserted the Congress, the more it has relied on lower castes and Muslims. Lower class support of the Congress has continued during the post liberalization period of the 1990s, despite the Congress’ neoliberal economic policy orientation against the economic interests of the lower classes.

The radicalization of upper castes - Brahmas and other forward castes - was necessary but by no means a sufficient means to win the majority in parliament; the support of the lower classes was central to winning the majority. In the 2014 election, Modi’s BJP managed to get roughly one-fourth of Dalits’ votes. In 2019, it deepened its popularity among Dalits and received more than one-third of the Dalits’ vote. Similar to the Imam-Hatip school example in Turkey, the current popular base of Hindutva relies on education, something that the RSS has heavily invested in. Sangh Parivar has organized several schools with Scheduled Tribes in order to articulate the tribal population (popularly known as Adivasis) to their political project. The curriculum covers typical subjects, but also includes Hindutvaized history and language. As discussed by Vanaik, “the Sangh sees its mission as not just Hinduizing but ‘civilizing’ tribals, which means inculcating lifestyle standards which represent a break from tribal practices and traditions, and more in tune with the upper-caste Hindu-inflected ethos of the Sangh” (2017: 46).

All of the arguments above should not be taken to imply that majoritarian politics are all about cultural/religious preferential treatment. They are predicated upon the distribution of the domestic income among different societal groups. In this context, what is salient in India is that religious identity has been highly backed by patronage relations which are largely, but not exclusively, constructed by the Sangh Parivar. This creates a broad network, the survival of which becomes highly dependent on the BJP’s success. Business and state relations open up a terrain on which redistribution mechanisms can enlarge the patronage network in question by integrating large masses in the urban and rural areas.

Patronage relations are not novel to India or specific to BJP government. Such relations have always been present in Indian politics, and the distribution of public resources in return for political support has been documented by several observers (e.g. Chandra, 2004: chapter 6). During the BJP period, identity, politics and economic interests have become entangled to form new patronage relations. The most striking example is perhaps the provisions to Dalit and Adivasi communities, which have consequently extended the RSS network. Gearing towards welfare provisions in the age of neoliberalism has led to large numbers of underprivileged communities becoming more dependent on the social provisions. The social provisions can he, for instance, in the form of schools for low castes and Adivasi communities as well as student hostels.3

In the case of Turkey, public housing is a striking example. It provides enormous opportunity for patronage relations, which have brought a win-win situation for all actors involved therein: public housing has enhanced its political power - indeed, the handover ceremonies of the houses have been organized as AKP rallies. The Housing Administrations’ (TOK1) activities have been presented as a success of the incumbent party during the election campaigns; more houses have been promised for lower income groups before the elections as well. Distributive policies in the form of TOKI housing projects appear strong predictors of the AKP’s election successes (Marschall et al., 2016). The recipients of the aids, mostly the urban poor, are less aware that they continue to sink into poverty. Clients in the patronage relations appear to he felicitous for these gifts4 and, in exchange, loyal to the party, which musters the electorate support primarily from the popular classes. Polls and surveys clearly show that, as household income decreases, support for the AKP increases (see KONDA, 2015, for an analysis on the June 2015 election).

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