By Isaac Chotiner
India is frequently described as the world’s largest democracy, thus leaving the impression that the country has nothing in common with a place like Turkey. In just the past year, the latter has weathered an attempted coup, a large-scale purging of key institutions by the ruling regime, and a president who seems increasingly unstable. But as Basharat Peer makes clear in his new book, A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen, the two places have more similarities than you might think.
Peer, an editor for international opinion at the New York Times and a contributor to the New Yorker, grew up in Indian-administered Kashmir, the contested (and heavily oppressed) region bordering Pakistan. In his new book, he writes about his experiences traveling and reporting in both India and Turkey, describing how two very controversial leaders, Narendra Modi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, used demagoguery to cement their power. (Modi was for many years banned from traveling to the U.S. for his role in presiding over religious violence and ethnic cleansing against Muslims in the state he governed.)
I spoke by phone with Peer this week. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the state of the opposition in both India and Turkey, why leaders don’t necessarily “mature” once in office, and how Donald Trump differs from the world’s other strongmen.
Isaac Chotiner: What made you decide to pair India and Turkey in a book about the return of strongmen?