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From Ram Lila Maidan to Taksim Square

world Updated: Jun 10, 2013 17:26 IST
Highlight Story

Protesters-like-this-in-photograph-in-Istanbul-fear-that-Turkey-s-secular-character-is-under-threat-Photo-by-Nasir-Lone

The chants of ‘Tayyip Istifa’ and ‘Hukumet Istifa’ resound in Taksim Gezi Park in the historic city of Istanbul, Turkey. The movement, which began to stop the demolition of the last green space in Taksim, has taken the nation by storm.

For Indians, these chants might resound with the scenes in Ram Lila Maidan of Delhi, during the Anna Hazare movement 2011. I’ve been lucky to witness both historical events.

However, the striking dissimilarity between the two is that while the movement in India was intended to alter the Constitution, the protests in Turkey are about preserving the same.

A section of Turkish population feels threatened that the current regime is trying to transform the Turkey that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded in 1923. They fear that the prime minister intends to diminish the secular character of the country, by bringing new constitutional amendments in line with his conservative ideology.

Indians took to the streets in 2011 because they felt the country’s economy and morale was affected by the increasing corruption in governance, but Taksim Square protests are more about ideological differences than the economic aspects.

In fact, the Turkish economy has been doing well in the last decade, growing at a faster rate than many of the European Union countries. During the five-year period from 2002 to 2007, Turkey’s GDP grew at 6.8% annually, making it one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Another big difference is that while India’s corruption movement was focused around a single personality (Anna Hazare), Turkey protests are more people-centric. The movement is still to find its face or a leader or as they say in advertising language, a ‘brand’.

Then, while the local media in India played an important role in furthering the corruption movement, the Turkish media is said to have played down the importance of the Taksim events.

Lastly, the differences are also in the protesters’ attitudes. Turkish protesters have proved to be more disciplined than their Indian counterparts. While they were dancing, singing and chanting anti-government slogans in Gezi Park last Sunday, the flag-bearing citizens did not forget to clean their mess, avoiding unnecessary confrontations and providing food to their comrades.

It’s also easy to see a number of similarities too. Firstly, the protests share a common factor – both were targeted against a democratically elected government. There was no dictator in either case. No Gaddafi, Assad or Mubarak.

The protests came from a need to show the ruling governments that they can’t always do what they feel like. In India, people were disappointed with UPA’s dismal record of dealing with the ongoing scams, while in Turkey the anger was against the ‘authoritarian’ and ‘anti-liberal policies’ of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edrogan. Lastly, both protests did one good thing.

They woke up the ruling regimes to the fact that they need to acknowledge the power of the people. This was the message which went out from Ram Lila Maidan in 2011. And this is the message emerging from Taksim Square now.

Zeyad Masroor Khan is a Delhi-based freelance journalist who is currently in Istanbul.

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