Turkish Ambassador to New Delhi Barak Akcapar has claimed that 75-year-old Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who allegedly attempted a 10-hour-long failed coup in Turkey on July 16, has a network in India.

The envoy made the surprising claim while interacting with the local media in the Indian capital a couple of days ago. Akcapar told reporters that the Fethullahci Terror Organisation (FETO) and the outfit’s exiled leader Gulen orchestrated the entire exercise with the help of a section of the Turkish Army.

The seasoned diplomat urged the Indian government to take action against FETO, saying that the outfit has a very strong network in different Indian cities. “They have presence in India in various cities and we expect the Indian government to take action. We feel they should have no place here. We have had initial consultation with India,” stressed Akcapar.

However, Ambassador Akcapar did not disclose any more details of his interaction with the concerned Indian authorities over the issue, saying that the Narendra Modi government would not allow FETO to run its network in the South Asian country. The envoy further claimed that Gulen, with the support of his followers, is trying hard to infiltrate the state machinery.

Akcapar, like many of Gulen’s critics, referred to a video (surfaced in 1999) in which the cleric is heard telling his followers: “You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centres. You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey.” Although Gulen’s supporters have claimed that the video was altered, the envoy doesn’t think so.

Meanwhile, Indian foreign policy experts have expressed serious doubts about Gulen’s India connection as claimed by the envoy. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Turkey in 1948, political and bilateral relations have been usually characterised by warmth and cordiality. However, Turkey recently angered India by opposing the latter’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid. Also, India is worried about Turkey’s close ties with Pakistan. Experts have advised the Modi government to ask Turkey to provide strong evidence regarding Gulen’s network in India. They believe that it’s a part of Turkey’s strategy to accuse India of helping Gulen in plotting the coup.

Coup is nothing new for Turkey, although the 2016 bid was different from earlier coups. Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former military officer deeply committed to democratic nationalism and hardline secularism, now called “Kemalism”. The Turkish military considers itself as a guardian of Kemalism. The Army has overthrown four Turkish governments since 1960 in the name of protecting Turkey’s democracy from chaos and Islamism. But each time, the military has returned the country to democracy.

Current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who leads the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – a moderate Islamist party, is seen by many as a threat to the Turkish democracy. He has cracked down on the country’s freedom of press and pushed constitutional changes to consolidate power in his hands. His actions have prompted some in the military to take up their traditional role as enforcers of Kemalist orthodoxy.

In all four earlier coups, the military acted with unity and chain of command. It also controlled the media, the government institutions, politicians and put the prime minister in jail. In 2016, it was obvious only a fraction of the military is acting. On July 16, President Erdoğan was free. That is why he was able to connect with the media and bring in tens of thousands of his supporters onto the streets. Also, there was no curfew and no martial law.

Usually, coup leaders take control of TV stations first to declare to the nation that they are in control. However, almost all TV channels kept working in Turkey last week. There did not seem to be any attempt to seize President Erdoğan. Only theory doing the rounds is that the coup might have been staged by President Erdoğan himself to allow him to concentrate more powers in his hands, virtually becoming a dictator. However, the logic is hard to believe, as Erdoğan has tried to repair ties with Russia and Israel in recent times. Even a failed coup means havoc for the Turkish economy.

President Erdoğan has blamed ally-turned-foe Gulen for creating trouble for him. The president has gone after Gulen ever since they split. Now, the Erdoğan administration may use the coup as an opportunity to crush the Gulen movement. Such a move will help the president take the country deeper into authoritarianism and deepen ethnic and religious fault lines.

On Thursday, President Erdoğan announced a three-month emergency in the country to “enable authorities to act quicker against coup plotters”. He also announced that Turkey would temporarily suspend the European convention on human rights. “The aim is to rapidly and effectively take all steps needed to eliminate the threat against democracy, the rule of law, the people’s rights and freedoms…..This measure is in no way against democracy, the law and freedoms….On the contrary, it aims to protect and strengthen them,” stressed the Turkish president. Ankara also formally asked the US to extradite Gulen and arrested 100 officials, including two judges of the Constitutional court, from the judiciary. The country’s internet watchdog blocked access to WikiLeaks website after it published thousands of e-mails linked to the accounts of President Erdogan-led AKP. It is evident from these developments that Turkey is heading towards authoritarianism.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]