[Sansad TV] Perspective: India’s Soft Power


Despite India’s rich history and unrivaled cultural diversity, the country remains hampered by the lack of a comprehensive soft power strategy, said the Parliamentary standing committee on external affairs. 

What is Soft Power?

  • In politics (and particularly in international politics), soft power is the ability to co-opt rather than coerce (contrast hard power).
  • It is the capacity to attract and persuade others to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.
  • It involves shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction.
  • Soft power resources are the assets that produce attraction or centre of attraction in geopolitical arena.

Etymology of the word

  • Joseph Nye, a US foreign policy veteran, coined the phrase soft power in 1990.
  • He encourages readers of his book The Future of Power to think of soft power in terms of resources
  • Power is derived from resources, and soft power is no different.
  • Hard power rests on military resources like navy fleets, attack aircraft and a capacity to inflict harm.
  • Soft power rests on three primary resources:
  1. Culture,
  2. Political values and
  3. Foreign policy

Why discuss this?

  • In addition to economic and military power, the idea of Soft Power has gained traction during the past few decades.
  • Indian arts, culture, yoga and spiritualism, culinary varieties, festivals, music and dance forms etc, have attracted people from all around the world for centuries.

Projecting India’s Soft Power

soft power

Areas which can be used to further India’s soft power include-

  1. Yoga and Ayurveda
  2. Spiritual knowledge of India ex. Save Soil movement by Sadhguru
  3. Indian cuisine
  4. Indian film industry ex. Indian movies are always cherished in EU and South Asia.
  5. Indian sports and games
  6. Indian handicrafts and GI goods ex. PM Modi gifting local handicrafts to foreign dignitaries
  7. Epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata
  8. Sustainable practices of India like environmental friendliness and respect towards other creatures. Ex: About 300 years ago, more than 300 Bishnois were killed while trying to peacefully protect a grove of Khejri trees in Rajasthan.

Limitations of soft power

  • Soft power has been criticized as for being ineffective or less effective tool in diplomacy.
  • Actors in international relations respond to only two types of incentives: Economic incentives and Forceful coercion.
  • As a concept, it can be difficult to distinguish soft power from hard power.
  • Rising powers such as China, are creating new approaches to soft power ex. Debt Traps, thus using it defensively.
  • Soft power can backfire, leading to reputational damage or loss, or what has been termed ‘soft disempowerment’. Ex. India’s perception in Maldives.

Initiatives by India showcasing its soft power

  • Principle of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’
  • Non-Alignment Movement
  • ‘Neighborhood First’ Policy
  • Vaccine diplomacy
  • Aid to Sri Lanka
  • Developmental aids in Afghanistan
  • Humanitarian assistance for disaster relief (HADR) in the neighborhood
  • Political sensitization of leaders e. Late foreign minister responding to Tweets

Major achievements

  • India has moral high ground at the world forum especially due to the non-violent manner in which we had achieved our independence.
  • International support for tough decisions like abrogation of article 370, and maintaining neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine War. 
  • It keeps India distant from world conflicts like recently in Syria, Sudan, Israel-Palestine issue. So India earns goodwill from all over the world.

Threats to India’s soft power

  • India’s older regimes and academia did little to encourage, protect or to benefit from Yoga.
  • Perhaps no other country in recent times has so ignored the potential value of its soft power.
  • There is a cultural battle occurring in the media and academia, in which India’s civilizational views are poorly represented.
  • India’s cultural diplomacy is often labeled by the left liberals as Hindutva Politics.

Recommendations by the Committee on External Affairs

  • Strategy document: The committee has recommended that a policy document should be prepared on India’s soft power projections along with a Soft Power Matrix for evaluating soft power outcomes.
  • Inter-ministerial synergy: The report highlighted the need for greater synergy among MEA and other Ministries, Departments, and agencies involved in India’s soft power projections and cultural diplomacy.
  • Revamping the Indian Council of Cultural Relations: China is estimated to spend about $10 billion a year just on its Confucius Institutes and soft power promotion whereas ICCR and other agencies put together spend only Rs. 300-400 crore.
  • Increased funding: To step up India’s efforts, the committee recommended a minimum 20% hike in the budget of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). 
  • Talent acquisition: MEA representatives admitted that finding and inducting trained personnel into the government has been a challenge. Bureaucrats, they submitted, were not always the right pick for cultural diplomacy. 

Way forward

  • India should move beyond asanas and analysis and take action.
  • Having the Indian story merely out there, jostling with a hundred other stories, isn’t necessarily winning the war of narrative.
  • Our cultural outreach must be well-oiled, well-funded, and primed to produce geopolitical clout.
  • Our moves — whether they be hard-to-power thrusts or soft power maneuvers — must emanate from consistent strategy.
  • In the age of the internet, India must amplify its strengths and work rapidly to right the wrongs.

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