The terminology of ‘soft power’ is attributed to the vocabulary of Americans during the Cold-war view of things. In this constructed view, the West was associated with prosperity and the Communist bloc was associated with deprivation, lack of freedom and an iron curtain that separated prosperity of the West from the deprivation of the East. To that extent, the West exercised a considerable amount of ‘soft power’ over the population of Communist bloc in the East. Therefore, it is debatable to attribute the same terminology to India’s modern quest of image building.
Indian civilisation has always been a source of attraction for the world as evident from several invasions in our history. On one hand, we possess a glorious ancient past which adds to the image of India as a favourable destination to explore, whereas, on the other hand, few of the social deficiencies today are exploited by the outsiders to portray a negative image of our nation abroad. This constant act of balancing between the two by our mature diplomacy is the rule of the play today.
The whole concept of ‘soft power’ is associated with the phenomenon that it doesn’t look like conventional ‘power’ at all. We need to understand and explore it more by clearly defining the means and objectives of this ‘soft power’. For instance, exploring India’s full potential in the field of higher education and tourism would yield substantive economic gains for India. Therefore, India’s latent soft power must be transformed into a potent force.
In the past decade, India has wielded its ‘soft power’ in a more systematic way in the practice of diplomacy. As the balance shifts slowly among the world powers, India needs to leverage its soft power in international affairs with more vigour. In the last few years, both domestically bred and diaspora-led soft power push in the fields of performing arts, literature and visual arts i.e. our cultural and spiritual heritage is getting greater recognition around the world. To capitalise its vast cultural and spiritual resources, India has started to realise the significance of this tool to pursue its diplomacy in this field. Moving in this direction, the first ever India-ASEAN Artists Camp and Music festival was organised recently. This is quite significant because the imprint of India’s historical civilisation is the strongest in Southeast Asia than anywhere else in this world.
We need to understand that India is a microcosm of the globalised world in the sense that many countries in the West are coming to terms with the diversity of culture, religion and customs. This attribute has been prevalent in India from the last many centuries and it is very common to our people today. India’s tradition of acceptance and not just tolerance is today the most significant lesson for the world. So, the way we live is itself manifested in our soft power influence on the world.
Despite the innumerable benefits of ‘soft power’, we shall remember that it cannot be seen as an enduring replacement of the economic and military power. Chinese economic power can any day throttle India’s soft power designs as evident from the rising Chinese influence in the world up to the extent of it being projected as the next superpower behind the United States alone. All this is being achieved by it despite being intolerant to dissent, non-democratic governance structures, fictitious historical claims and expansionist designs in their neighbourhood. Therefore, we cannot have any unrealistic illusions about the concrete benefits that will flow from what is today termed as the ‘soft power’.
In the quest for ensuring a respectable space for our country in the international affairs, both the tangible (economic and military power) and the intangible tools (soft power) must be sufficiently balanced and complemented to ensure a genuine power for India. As far as India’s quest for the ‘soft power’ is concerned, removing the social blots on India’s image such as the caste and religious discriminations would serve a long way in ensuring a genuine ‘soft power’ for our country in the international arena.