Ever since the American political scientist Joseph S Nye Jr. introduced the term “soft power” in the international relations discourse back in the 1980s, countries across the world have embraced this idea to augment their global positioning and influence. A country’s soft power essentially refers to its ability to attract other nations through its culture, foreign policy, and political values, rather than the use of military might. This understanding has served as the bedrock for countries to pursue public diplomacy and amplify their cultural engagement with both state and non-state actors.
While the idea of soft power is only a few decades old, many countries are globally acclaimed for their cultural assets and values that date back centuries and remain sought after still today. Smart and secured governance is a novel strategy that helps in the overall infrastructure development of the nation. In addition to this, the overall economic indicators such as GDP, purchasing power parity along with happiness and a decrease in the unemployment rate, also contribute to developmental growth in the long run.
India has an amazing variety of global leadership methods and a wealth of achievements that are part of one of the longest surviving civilizations in the world. Overseas, Indians contributing to the world’s growth exceed the expectations of a soft power. India can rightly be called ‘Global Soft Superpower’ with its all-round presence and achievements and growing by the day. These are supported by its large contribution in spiritualism, yoga, movies and television soaps, classical and popular dance and music, its principles of non-violence, democratic institutions, plural society, and cuisine have all attracted people across the world. Indian foreign policy holds out for its accepted principles and strong global leadership to further International progressive policy goals.
Only over the past decade or so that India has begun to play its soft power cards more systematically. Besides setting up a public diplomacy division within the Ministry of External Affairs in 2006 and expanding the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) worldwide, it has roped in the Ministry of Tourism, which is behind the “Incredible India” campaign, and the Ministry for Overseas Indians “to showcase its social, political, and cultural assets abroad,” These government actors are working to leverage India’s soft power “by using it to support larger foreign policy initiatives such as the Look East Policy (now Act East), the Connect Central Asia policy, and developing strategic aid and trade partnerships in Africa. With each of these initiatives, official diplomacy has been buttressed by cultural exchange and efforts at increasing public knowledge and appreciation of India in foreign countries.
What is soft power and why are countries looking to it in their conduct of diplomacy? According to Harvard political scientist, who coined the term, soft power is the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without resorting to force or coercion. Soft power, he said, lies in a country’s attractiveness and comes from three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority). Though slower to yield results, soft power is a less expensive means than military force or economic inducements to get others to do what we want.
The country leading by example is India, whose soft power is underpinned by its civilizational heritage and cultural prowess. Unlike many other nations that have homogenised or rather “westernized” their culture, India’s diverse yet coherent cultural fabric spreads across the length and breadth of the country. Furthermore, the rise of India’s global stature in recent decades at various multilateral forums, the increasing popularity of Yoga and Ayurveda, and the world community embracing Namaste as a greeting during the ongoing pandemic are some of the most evident examples of Indian soft power.
As a civilizational state, India’s soft power is manifested in its millennia-old traditions and wisdom that holds relevance still today. The Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS) are not only extremely scientific but also intricately intertwined with aesthetics and linguistics. The depth of IKS is reflected in the tangible as well as intangible aspects of life – from science to cuisine to architecture. The 5,000-year-old temples that continue to boost their architectural grandeur or the Nataraja (dancing Shiva) statue that adorns the premises of European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland convey the universal connection between humans and the cosmos that is espoused in IKS.
Indian epics–Ramayana and Mahabharata–as well as Buddhism, travelled far and wide and continue to flourish even today, especially in Southeast Asian countries. For example, Ramakein, the national literature of Thailand and Kakawin in Indonesia, are local versions of Ramayana that have been adapted to theatre, dance forms and other crafts in these countries, contributing immensely to their culture and creative economy.
India’s civilizational connect with any country or continent even in the past was never a consequence of a war or colonization, but rather an outcome of the exchange of ideas, traditions and culture that accompanied trade of various goods and even in those days India was a hidden Soft Power. In addition, enlightened persons had shed light on the need for global recognition of India as a non-aggressive eminent country, whose vision is inclusive and well needed global integration. In this it is very important to point out that the worldview rests in the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the world is one family a well-knit Indian philosophy given to the world thousands of years ago.
Diversity of lifestyles, yet a coherent and shared identity and harmony between humans and nature are hallmarks of this philosophy. The Indian civilizational thought is rooted in the idea of co-existence with mother nature rather than conquering it. In this sense, the practice of selflessness is embellished in India’s core identity that dates to millennia, even though the term is comparatively new in the foreign policy and cultural discourse.
India is a culture-driven soft power. One example is the availability and appreciation of Indian cinema as a source of recreation even in various conflict-ridden countries like Afghanistan as well as advanced countries like the UK, Japan etc. Another major cultural export is Indian gastronomy, be it turmeric latte sold in cafés, jackfruits used in gourmet preparations or the Australian PM Scott Morison’s display of Samosa diplomacy. Arts, fashion and handicrafts, literary works, and performing arts and tourism are other key aspects of Indian soft power. To realize and maximize the potential of such traditions and practices, it is important to develop a robust cultural creative economy, giving more and more opportunities for creative entrepreneurs to take Indian culture across the globe. This can also lead to cross-cultural cooperation and mutual learnings between cultural experts, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts from across the world.
The soft superpower of India with its cultural assets is becoming a subject of aspiration and admiration by the global community. India is blessed with immense cultural assets, be it Yoga, Ayurveda, literature, arts, heritage, culinary practices, sports and much more, along with being the largest democracy and having strong institutions and leaders. When the propagation of soft superpower is done with the idea of fostering mutual respect, shared understanding, and joint collaborations for cultural advancements between countries, it becomes the essence of cultural diplomacy.
Beyond cultural and civilizational heritage, India has been recognized for its role in addressing global challenges and being at the forefront of various development-related initiatives. Though India’s international engagement is guided by its security and strategic interests, it is also underpinned by the values of inclusivity, plurality, and welfare for all. The establishing of International Solar Alliance, for example, demonstrated India’s commitment towards mitigating environmental risks through multilateral cooperation. Similarly, Indian offers humanitarian aid to smaller mainland and island economies in times of calamity, while its contributions to the UN Peacekeeping forces are amongst the highest in the world. The country’s cooperation at bilateral and multilateral forums for fighting COVID-19 through supplying hydro-chloroquine to the world as well as directing R&D efforts towards vaccine development highlight India’s contribution in the global pharmaceutical and wellness sector.
Owing to these and many other contributions towards the greater good for all, India is ranked 44th out of 160 countries in the Good Country Index (GCI). According to Anholt, the creator of GCI, the underlying idea is that in the ongoing contest for soft power in the world where countries increasingly seek to lead and steer conversations around power dynamics, there is an increasing desire and necessity to connect with each other’s culture and communities. Speaking on the theme of India’s Global Connect at Namaste 2020, Anholt explained that the ‘goodness’ of a country is determined by its multilateral engagement and cooperation in addressing common global challenges. Higher levels of involvement build positive perceptions about the country that in turn invite greater foreign investment and visitors, thus contributing to the country’s soft power and reputation in the eyes of common citizens.
On June 21, the world will observe the International Day of Yoga for the first time ever. A United Nations resolution to this effect that India moved in the General Assembly last year was co-sponsored by an unprecedented 170 countries. It “reflected yoga’s immense popularity worldwide, underscoring its richness as a soft power resource,” an official from India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) told The Diplomat.
Yoga which is also a $100 Billion industry is among the themes that figured during the recent visit of India’s Prime Minister to China, Mongolia, and South Korea. Clearly, India is dipping into its ample soft power resources in its diplomatic engagements abroad. India’s reputation extends beyond its nuclear posture. Since independence, the country has been viewed as a neutral and harmless power by most foreign audiences, particularly in Africa, the Middle East, South America, and Southeast Asia. This is in part due to its prominent role in the Non-Aligned Movement. Whilst India’s reputation in its own neighborhood even some globally hostile ones is quite different when in critical times it showed its muscle power and quickly withdrew once the objectives are met. All other South Asian states do not see India as a threat in the way that many of India’s neighbors of other big powers are viewed. Even long-time nemesis Pakistan is unlikely to have been as adventurous in its dealings with its much larger and more powerful neighbor had it not had firsthand experience of Delhi’s restraint – even before Islamabad claimed nuclear capability.
India also is respected for its principles of non-violence in other areas of foreign policy. In relation to the norm of “Responsibility to Protect,” India voiced support for those aspects of R2P that encouraged and supported states to protect their own populations and expressed extreme caution at R2P’s coercive side. When some of the world’s greatest debates over intervention occurred at the U.N., Indian ambassadors drenched their speeches with the language of non-violence.
So, what is behind India’s benign image? In part, it is self-created. For 70-plus years Delhi has favored cultivating the impression of a non-violent India. This is particularly clear in the realm of nuclear posture. Despite having tested weapons in 1974 and 1998 and being a non-signatory to the NPT and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, India has been one of the most vocal advocates for global disarmament. It has arguably been the most passionate anti-nuclear campaigner amongst the world’s nine known or suspected nuclear weapons states, with one of the world’s most notable pleas for global disarmament.
The pursuit of this image continued a decade later, even after the Pokhran II nuclear tests when India clearly stated that the tests were not a repudiation of the disarmament goal. In the Draft Report on Indian Nuclear Doctrine, the very first sentence of the first paragraph describes the use of nuclear weapons as the “gravest threat to humanity and to peace and stability.” The paragraph goes on to criticize the virtual abandonment by states of the goal of disarmament. India has positioned rightfully as the “reluctant nuclear power” that the bomb was a last resort in a world of threatening nuclear states who make no pledges to refrain from first strikes and the use of nukes against non-nuclear states. Somewhat legitimately, Indian leaders asserted that the country’s nuclear weapons could act as bargaining chips to support its global disarmament agenda. India was said to have more credibility as a nuclear weapons state with itself having something to sacrifice in order to usher in global disarmament. India declared that its security would be enhanced and not diminished in a nuclear-free world.
This preciously guarded national image is not merely a strategic ploy to increase India’s soft power with its Policymakers wish the country to be seen as non-violent, pluralistic and tolerant because India genuinely holds these values. Within the nuclear realm, the influence of non-violence is seen through the foot-dragging in relation to integrating nuclear weapons into military strategy and in relation to serial production of weapons. A further sign of this influence is the long public debate before going nuclear – a rarity amongst nuclear powers. We have seen repeatedly that India’s leaders find it morally inconceivable that nukes could ever be useable tools of war.
When it came to humanitarian intervention, over the last 25 years India’s opposition or support was directly related to the level of intrastate violence entailed in intervening. This was true regardless of who was intervening in whom, for what reason, and whether there were strategic gains in it for Delhi. This included interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria. India’s opposition to intervention was compounded by its pluralistic worldview, with acceptance of all regime types.
It would seem that India’s values of non-violence, pluralism and tolerance stem from the independence era when the country’s foreign policy and modern identity was crafted. Mahatma Gandhi made India’s independence movement synonymous with non-violence.
This is because the values that help guide Indian foreign policy and underpin its image are rooted deep in the country’s cultural history. These values attained dominance during the formative stage of Indian civilization – the period between the Vedic era and medieval times when the greatest empires arose. India is the only modern great power that has held a largely continuous culture for several millennia. Ancient India’s cultural connection to its present-day manifestation is far stronger than ancient Greek, Roman or Anglo-Celtic culture is to present-day Western states, or the ancient Middle Eastern civilizations are to today’s Arab world. India’s international reputation has fared very well as its strategic peaceful interests have expanded throughout the Indo-Pacific and beyond. With some diplomatic craftsmanship, India is converting ethereal values-based soft superpower advantage into hard strategic and economic gains.
India’s soft superpower has rare characteristics when compared with the other great powers of the emerging multipolar world: the US, China, Russia, Japan, and Europe (as a unified entity). Its relatively neutral, non-threatening, image will make India a uniquely attractive great-power partner for countries looking to hedge against future fallout between the US and China, and not wanting to antagonize either superpower. Many countries like Australia have chosen a wise time to solidify ties with one of the world’s most dynamic rising powers.
For India’s soft superpower to achieve its full potential, it is imperative to have an integrated approach that amalgamates public diplomacy at the global level with a creative economy at the local level. This necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, including artists, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers and civil society.
Overseas Indians contribution to India as Global Soft Superpower
There are over 32 million Indians in 230 countries in sizable numbers and immensely contributing to the countries where they reside as also deeply involved in India’s progress. They remit $85 billion every year, which is a fraction of their earnings, as they themselves constitute a trillion dollar Economy. They have a big role in India being a Global Soft Super Power as their contribution to international growth and India’s prosperity with the Leadership role as the Knowledge Capital of the World is commendable.
India’s role in High Technologies including Space, Robotics, AI
India has a good role in all spheres of Technology development and plays a significant role in development and support in Space, AI including high tech use in Agri etc. Here, some of top technologists and supporting staff are from India. Most of the top enterprises globally are having Indian management, engineers, technologist and now India is becoming the hub for production and back-office support.
India the Global Soft Superpower
India must take its rightful place as Global Soft Super Power and take its leadership role to make the world a better place for humans. This comes with great responsibilities of spreading its time-tested principles of peace and prosperity to all citizens of the world. It must lead as the Knowledge capital and complement knowledge from others in various spheres and sectors of the economy. It should be noted that GDP alone does not reflect the growth of parameters and must work with Happiness Index. Many of these needs’ changes in the present definitions and required modifications must be made in phases.
Secured Governance is a concept that is catching the attention of many as a holistic approach to infrastructure needs, promising a great deal. It professes taking advantage of the valuation of assets created and delivering at negligible cost to the government. Infrastructure development plays a key role in value appreciation. Any new connectivity, transport, road, or transit HUB will act as a growth driver, as these are expected to bring more population and ultimately, more demand. Imagine a model where this valuation can be ploughed back into the project and benefit the people around.
First, the cost of the developmental project is reduced and can be at negligible cost to the government if carefully planned. Next, the population sees it as benefitting them and so they participate more enthusiastically, helping with the early completion of the project rather than being an impediment.
As it can be seen in the present Covid era India with Overseas Indians played a big role as acknowledged by global media in getting the World to fight this pandemic and getting a different world order. With this India needs to expand by sending more Indians to all countries as its Ambassadors of prosperity as also welcome persons from other countries to come, learn and get into the liberated mind and all should see the world as a Global village for Human happy existence. In all of these cases, India and Indians wherever they are, are needed to support India as a global soft superpower.