Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Jawaharlal Nehru and Archbishop Makarios, founders of modern Turkey, India and Cyprus respectively, are being re-evaluated by the nations they founded. That all three names evoke complex emotions is expected; the real issue, however, is that critics are not quite confident of taking on these three.
There are many similarities in the way the three are being viewed now. Critics of Nehru blame him for a number of problems that torment India at present — issues as diverse as economy and India-China ties. Ataturk’s critics accuse modern-day Kemalists of degrading his ideology. Makarios is described either as an evil man or as a saint by different segments of Greek, Cypriot and Turkish politics.
In India, Nehruvian politics is increasingly viewed as lacking appeal for the aspiring masses. In Turkey, Kemalism is viewed as a highly Westernised anti-religious movement, Makarios has faced criticism for not being fully pro-West, and for being a votary of non-alignment and solidarity among Third World countries. The similarities do not end there. Despite the criticism of these figures, there is also an intense race to coopt them into the dominant discourse of the day. Unable to deal with Nehru’s achievements, his critics often resort to nuances and instead of blaming him they are trying to build the memory of Nehru’s opponents like Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Similarly, Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is careful not to blame Ataturk and instead blames his followers for reducing secularism to a fetish. Cyprus is similarly caught between the ideology and memories of Makarios. Makarios championed non-alignment with Nehru and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, but in 2004, Cyprus dumped the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and joined the European Union (EU).
But critics don’t have full ammunition to demolish these three yet. Nehru’s politics and policies are criticised but critics do not have a complete set of alternatives. In Turkey, though it was Ataturk who had banned the headscarf, present-day rulers still enforce it in varying forms, citing freedom of choice. Cyprus wishes to model itself as the door to the European market but still clings on to the idea of Third World solidarity.
All three are also blamed for leaving behind conflicts. Nehru is blamed for Kashmir dispute. Ataturk’s Turkish ethnocracy created the festering Kurdish question. Makarios failed to resolve the issue of northern Cyprus with Turkey. In 1960, Nehru tried to resolve the issue of Cyprus by bringing Turkey into non-alignment. But the move was scuttled by a military coup in Ankara. However, all three stand tall on the scale of secularism. Given the cautious criticism and lack of an alternative agenda, it is obvious that critics are not yet fully confident of taking on these three giants of world history who shaped the 20th century.