Operation Dost: Bringing Back Khilafat Bonhomie?

The bonhomie, affability, and amity between pre independence India and Ottoman Türkiye, had a distinctive anti-colonial underpinning. An India divided by religion found a fulcrum for unity, the “Caliph” sitting in Constantinople who was himself threatened by the Western powers. While Caliphate was a pan-Islamic concept, surprisingly in Indian subcontinent, it helped bolster Westphalian Nationalism, which should be studied in greater detail.

To help the Ottoman Caliph, Khilafat Committee was formed in Bombay On March 20, 1919. Mahatma Gandhi the great Indian Hindu pacifist, was elected as President of the India Khilafat Conference (Nov. 23, 1919). Another big leader of the Khilafat movement and a staunch opponent of partition of India on religious lines was Maulana Azad, he was born as an Ottoman citizen in Mecca in Hejaz.

A staunch supporter of the Ottoman Caliphate, Azad in 1912, started publishing a weekly called Al-Hilal and later Al-Balagh which he used as a weapon to attack and question British policies and support the Ottomans. The greatest amount of space in al-Hilal was given to coverage of news from Ottoman Anatolia and Rumelia. During the Balkan Wars, Azad extolled the virtues of various Turkish leaders, made constant appeals for the Turkish Red Cross and Red Crescent funds and penned down a regular feature column called ‘Conditions in the Ottoman Empire’.

But in addition to supporting the Ottomans Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad was also a staunch Indian nationalist who was against the partition of Indian into two separate countries of India and Pakistan. He said in 1923 as the youngest President of Indian National Congress and I quote: “If an angel was to descend from the Heaven’s and from the heights of Qutab Minar announce that provided Congress abandons its policy of Hindu-Muslim unity, Swaraj would be granted in 24 hours, I would turn my back on that Swaraj. Shunning it for the cost being demanded may delay Swaraj and harm India for a short period. But abandoning our unity as a price for freedom will be lethal for all humanity.”

Strained Relationship

India and Türkiye inspite of the fact that they had a wonderful historical connect, somewhere failed to build on this friendly past. While Türkiye felt that Pakistan was its actual all weather friend, forgot that major Caliphate Movement leaders were in fact those Muslims who chose India over Pakistan and opposed Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s two nation theory. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in fact played a major role in alienating India from Türkiye, his leadership has taken several anti-India steps at international fora, offending India by meddling in the Kashmir dispute being the most prominent anti-India step. While India maintained its neutrality in the Eastern Mediterranean, Erdogan’s overt Pakistan bias in South Asia has convinced many Indians that he and his followers have forgotten what Indians did for Ottoman Türkiye during the Khilafat Movement. Inspite of the major low in recent years in India-Türkiye relationship, India launched Operation Dost (Friend) to provide humanitarian assistance to Türkiye and Syria after they were hit by a devastating earthquake recently.

Operation Dost

Turkish envoy to India Firat Sunel said, “DOST is the word in Hindi and Turkish which means friends”, and India after the Balkan Wars and Khilafat Movement has again shown its friendship to Türkiye, through its recently executed Operation Dost. Furkan a Turkish national told to Indian news agency ANI, “I am really grateful to them (Indians) because they are the first group that arrived. It was the first time that I met a group of people from India and I can’t explain my feelings. I call them ‘dost’ but I see them like brothers and sisters.” 

India following its civilisational philosophy “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” meaning the entire world is one family, had sent over 250 personnel and more than 135 tonnes of relief material to Türkiye so far, as per news agency PTI. In the rescue operations in Türkiye, Indian National Disaster Relief Force’s Team IND-11 saved the life of a six-year-old girl, Beren, in Gaziantep city as per home Minister of India, Mr. Amit Shah.

More than 150 members of Indian National Disaster Relief Force, provided relief in Türkiye, along with 99 Indian Army personnel who set up a 30 bed facility in field conditions, in Iskenderun in Hatay and seven huge Indian Airforce aircraft with relief material and teams were sent to Türkiye.  As per a report by newsgroup CNBC TV18 Indian Army had developed a network-independent real-time tracking and messaging module called “SANCHAR” which was used in the Republic of Türkiye in areas where Indian soldiers had been deployed.

India that is known as pharmacy of the world, sent large amount of medicines to Türkiye not just on the behalf of the government of India, but also collected and sent by common people of India. From Indians from the city of Bengaluru, state of Kashmir to state of Kerala that has announced that the government will give 100 million rupees ($1.25 million) in earthquake relief for Türkiye and Syria many people all coming forward to help Turks who need relief.

As mentioned before, this was not the first time India came to help Turks when they needed help, Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi was in fact one of the important leaders of the Khilafat Movement that provided immense support to the Ottomans along with several other Muslim and Hindu freedom fighters of India, another Indian freedom fighter and leader of the Khilafat movement Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari led an Indian Medical Mission to Ottoman Empire, this article shall make the readers aware about this mission.

India’s Ansari Mission to Türkiye

For two terms, of five years each from 2007 to 2017 an Indian diplomat named Mr. M. Hamid Ansari was the Vice President of the largest democracy on earth, Republic of India. Mr. Ansari was a Muslim Vice-President of a Hindu majority country, with a significant Muslim minority and a Secular Constitution; he was also the ex officio chairman of the upper house of Indian Parliament known as Rajya Sabha, readers must be wondering why the author is writing all this? Well there is a pertinent reason for it, Mr. M. Hamid Ansari who was made the Vice-President of India, is none other than the grand nephew, of Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, known in Türkiye as Hakim Ansari Bey, who led an Indian Medical Mission to Türkiye during the Balkan wars, and he was also the President of Indian National Congress, in its Madras session in 1927. Erstwhile Vice-President Ansari’s uncle Farid-ul-Haq, was secretary general of the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) and was elected to the second Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament). Recently India helped Türkiye through its Operation Dost, but this is not the first time India has come forward to help Türkiye, rather if we look into history, when Türkiye had several injured soldiers during the Balkan wars, India sent a Medical Mission to Türkiye headed by Dr. Ansari Bey.

Indian leader Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, a proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity was a pro Indian union nationalist Muslim. He was from Ghazipur in present day Uttar Pradesh and was a U.K. educated doctor and leader of India’s Congress party. He built a house in Delhi which was not only the resting place for a Hindu sympathiser of Caliphate and Ottoman – Mahatma Gandhi, but also a center for the movement to help the Ottoman Empire in critical times when colonial powers were bent on its fragmentation.

Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, who later led India’s freedom movement as president of Congress party from 1927 to1928, left no stone unturned to convince fellow Indians to go on a medical mission to help Türkiye, 23 students from Aligarh abandoned their studies and volunteered to work in a medical mission to help Turks during the war. He formed the Red Crescent Society to mobilize funds for Turkey caught up in the Balkan War, people contributed generously. A total of Rs 1,18,762 was collected. Dr. Ansari led the Medical Mission to Turkey in 1912 and led the Khilafat delegation to England in 1920. To know more about this mission readers can read the book, “People’s Mission to the Ottoman Empire: M.A. Ansari and the Indian Medical Mission, 1912-13” by Burak Akçapar.

In the course of the war, Ansari divided his mission into two parts – one would remain in Omerli and the other, under his leadership, would accompany Enver Pasha, the charismatic leader of the Young Turks movement, to the war zone of Gallipoli. The second hospital was set up in the town of Çanakkale, where in the month of March 1913 alone, the Mission treated 171 admitted patients and 101 outdoor patients. “We have all been working terribly hard,” Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari reported on Feb. 22, 1913: “I may tell you that our field-hospital, if not the best, is second to none in Turkey. Not only are our wards, dispensary, operating theatre and general provision most excellent, but every member of the mission has got the zeal and energy of ten persons and a most excellent espirit de corps exists among them, of which I naturally feel very proud.” For his great Service he got Tamga-E-Usmaniya by Ottoman Empire.

Indo-Turkish Friendship

In the time of need we need real friends and as per a Turkish phrase ‘Dost kara g’nde belli olur’ (a friend in need is a friend indeed). India has shown its humanitarian nature again like in the past. It has been sending huge relief support to earthquake hit Türkiye and even Syria. Our motto is Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam the entire world is one family that is what India stands for and we wish Türkiye appreciates Indian friendship. Now only time will tell if Operation Dost will be able to bring back the Khilafat bonhomie between India and Türkiye or not.

[In the picture, Vice President Shri Mohd. Hamid Ansari paying homage at the portrait of Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari on his 133rd birth anniversary on December 25, 2012. Credit: Vice President’s Secretariat, India]

Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami is a Consultant with Union Minister of Civil Aviation and Steel, Government of India, Mr. Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia, and head of Scindia Research Centre Gwalior. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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