It is evident that, though separated geographically, India and Turkey have emerged as major regional players in their respective regions. "Turkey is situated at the junction of Central Europe, Central Asia and West Asia. We are located between West Asia, Central Asia and East Asia. Our geopolitical locations give us shared concerns in the region, as well as some common opportunities," then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpaye said in a statement during his three-day official visit to Turkey in September 2003. This was perhaps an apt recognition of the vast potential for the two emerging regional powers to come together to forge a new partnership based on mutual respect, shared concerns and values between two powerful democracies and rising economic powers.
There are numerous historical connections between India and Turkey, with the first exchange of diplomatic missions between the Ottoman Sultans and the Muslim rulers of the subcontinent dating back to 1481-1482. More recent historical contacts between India and Turkey were reflected in the medical mission led by renowned Indian freedom fighter, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, to Turkey in 1912 during the Balkan Wars and during the Khilafat movement from 1919-1924. India also extended support in the 1920s to Turkey's War of Independence and to the formation of the Turkish Republic. Mahatma Gandhi himself took a stand against the injustices inflicted on Turkey at the end of World War I. A statement made by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the first Home Minister of Independent India, in August 1920 on the context of Mahatma Gandhi's Khilafat campaign said, "The Turkish Empire was divided in spite of Britain's promise… It has been a heartbreaking episode for the Indian Muslims, and how can Hindus stand unaffected when they see their fellow countrymen thus in distress," a heartfelt statement that clearly reflects the empathy shared between the people of both countries. A very substantial amount of money was raised in India to help the Turkish people in their war of independence, as acknowledged by Hasan Rıza Soyak in his book "Atatürk'ten Hatıralar" (Memories of Ataturk). A portion of this sum was used as the original capital for the establishment of Türkiye İş Bankası.
An active interest for enhancing the bilateral relationship in recent years has arisen in both the countries, as seen in the number of high-level bilateral visits, the signing of agreements and the increased trade figures. The exchange of leader visits, including those by President Abdullah Gül to India in 2010, Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari's visit to Turkey in 2011 and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Turkey in 2013. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the G20 Summit held in Antalya in November 2015. On the margins of the summit, Prime Minister Modi had bilateral talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Prime Minister Modi and President Erdoğan also held talks in Hangzhou in September 2016 on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in China. Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, paid an official visit to India in August 2016. A road map between the Ministry of External Affairs of India and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey was finalized during the visit. The road map envisages strengthening the bilateral dialogue, as well as political, economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries. Furthermore, during a telephone call with President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed solidarity in the context of the failed coup attempt in Turkey.
THE ECONOMIC COOPERATIONS
India-Turkey economic and commercial cooperation constitutes an important dimension of the bilateral relationship. Several bilateral agreements and institutional mechanisms, at the governmental level as well as in business-to-business (B2B), provide the framework for strengthening economic and commercial ties, including the India–Turkey Joint Committee on Economic and Technical Cooperation (JCETC) and India-Turkey Joint Business Council (JBC) between the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and the Industry (FICCI) and Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK).
More recently in April 2015, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) to promote bilateral trade and economic cooperation. The TOBB also signed a cooperation agreement with the FICCI for establishing the India-Turkey Working Committee and Investment Forums. In August 2015, State Bank of India and Turkey's Akbank entered into a cooperation agreement to support bilateral trade and investments. In December 2016, the Reserve Bank of India signed a MoU on "Supervisory Cooperation and Exchange of Supervisory Information" with the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency of Republic of Turkey.
Earlier, several Indian companies entered the Turkish market. Notable among them are Polyplex, which set up a polyplex film manufacturing factory in Çorlu in 2005 with a total capital investment of $60 million. Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd. (TAFE) also set up a tractor manufacturing plant in Turkey in 2010. Jain Irrigation Systems has invested in a manufacturing unit in Adana. Dabur India Limited acquired HobiKozmetik Group, a Turkish personal care products company. In 2013, ONGC Videsh Ltd acquired 2.72 percent in the Guneshli Fields ACG and a 2.3 percent interest in the associated Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. The drug firm, Sequent Scientific, with its subsidiary, Alivira Animal Health, invested in the Turkey based firm, Topkim. India's Punj Lloyd and Turkey's Limak Holding are currently working together to construct a section of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) project. The total length being constructed is approximately 459 kilometers (285 miles), expected to be completed by 2018. They had also collaborated earlier in the construction of the BTC pipeline. Dr. Reddy's Laboratories has entered into collaboration with TR-Pharm to manufacture and commercialize a portfolio of biosimilar drugs in Turkey. Essar Steel won a contract for supplying its Rockstar steel plates for constructing the Istanbul New Airport. The medical technology firm Trivitron Healthcare has acquired a stake in the Turkish firm Bome Sanayi Ürünleri Zydus Cadila signed a strategic collaboration agreement with Eczacıbaşı, a Turkish healthcare company, to market biotech products in Turkey. IOT Infrastructure & Energy Services, a joint venture between Indian Oil Corporation and Oiltanking GmbH, is collaborating with VITO Energy and Investment of Turkey for the erection of a joint tank farm at the Star Refinery near Izmir. The project started in August 2015 and is expected to be completed in July 2017. Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, a leading Indian corporate, announced their foray into Turkey in January 2017, through the acquisition of a 75.1 percent equity stake in Hisarlar company.
Similarly, Turkish companies are represented in India, including Limak, Özaltın, Orhan Holding, Enpay, Çelebi, Sarar and Izopoli-Kingspan. The hope is that more Turkish companies will take advantage of the economic opportunities in India, especially in the infrastructure and construction sectors.
India is also among the major trade partners of Turkey. According to Turkish statistics, the bilateral trade volume between India and Turkey was about $6.4 billion in 2016. While the trade between India and Turkey increased during the preceding decade, there is certainly scope for further enhancing the trade turn over by diversifying the trade basket. Indian companies have been participating regularly in trade fairs and exhibitions in Turkey, and Turkish companies are doing likewise in India.
THE CULTURAL RELATIONS
India and Turkey also have a cultural overlap. The Sufi philosophy of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi found resonance in the Indian sub-continent with its own traditions of Sufism and the Bhakti movement. There are also many common words in both Hindustani and Turkish languages. It is gratifying that age-old people to people contacts and cultural cooperation are continuing with active interactions in the areas of performing arts, cinema, cuisine and more. The Taj Express Bollywood musical group from India participated twice in the International Theatre Festival in Antalya. Bollywood cinema was chosen as the theme for the 4th International Kayseri Golden Sycamore Festival in 2016. A number of Indian films are being shot in Turkey, and Turkish television serials are being telecast in India. Many cultural events, including photo exhibitions, music and dance performances, as well as the celebration of the International Day of Yoga in regions of Turkey have been organized by the Indian Embassy in Turkey. Indian tourists have been visiting Turkey in large numbers.
President Erdoğan visited India as Prime Minister in November 2008. The forthcoming state visit of President Erdoğan from April 30 – May 1, 2017 will be another milestone in India-Turkey ties and will provide the much needed impetus to the progressive enhancement and deepening of bilateral ties.
*Indian Ambassador to Ankara