Changing contours of India’s Soft Power Diplomacy

 By Neeraj Trivedi
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Soft power is the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. Nation states require both hard and soft power together which is now referred to as smart power and is essential for achieving strategic national objectives. India has immense potential to exercise it’s soft power influence in world politics but this was less exploited as an instrument of state policy. In the last 6 years, The present government has unleashed its true potential and maintained a strong focus for its use as an instrument of public diplomacy. Present Government has used four specific soft power assets of India – Buddhism, Diaspora, Yoga and economic leverage for achieving diplomatic successes and furthering the country’s national interests. Even in the ancient times scholars like Kautilya and Kamandak had advocated the use of soft power for achieving progress in state affairs. A country’s soft power influence rests on how effectively it uses resources of culture, values, and economic policies.

Limitations in growth of India’s Soft Power

Despite being the largest democracy and having a rich culture, India was plagued by impoverishment, missing out on positive associations, coupled with lack of investment in cultural diplomacy, a reputation of deep rooted corruption, hostile business environment, red tapism, lack of infrastructure and severe pollution in urban areas. As a result, India was missing out on it’s due place on the high table at the world forums with limited sphere of influence which was not in synch with its global aspirations. Benign, non aggressive impressions along with inability of the Indian state to be effectively governed and to deliver a quality life to its citizens has had an adverse impact on the national image.

Rising Soft Power Potential

Dynamism and policy changes have in the past six years reshaped the country’s perceptions in the outside world. Government in power has made concerted efforts to connect with the influential Indian Diaspora in all countries. A separate revitalized ministry was established to address the concerns of the outside Diaspora and re-establish their Indian connect so as to make them active participants in extension of the country’s  goodwill and influence. Rejuvenated and active Diasporas is not only exercising its influence in the political establishments where they are residing but also ensuring that Indian interests at global stage are being  taken care of. In Canada, NDP chief Jagmeet with 18 MLA’s is a king maker for Trudeau government. After abrogation of Article 370 failure of British Tories government to stop anti India protests by Pakistani populace has resulted in a shift of Indian origin diaspora’s political preferences.  Influential Indians are now heading important political and administrative posts in various governments. Top three CEOs of the biggest companies in the world are of Indian origin. This untapped resource of people needs to be used for increasing India’s sphere of influence. The government was also successful in projecting yoga and ayurveda as quintessentially Indian legacy. Recognition by UN of June 21, as International Yoga day on the insistence of Indian government has been a step in the right direction. Concerted efforts are required by India to build upon spiritual, health care and educational tourism where there is immense potential. Buddhism has been a common link for connecting with East Asian and South East Asian countries. Extension of line of credit to its neighbours including Russia has helped cement new mutually beneficial alliances in tune with India’s policy of having a collaborative, soft diplomacy. India also realises that international world order is in a state of flux. Even US is in a state of reorienting itself on nationalistic lines while changes are unfolding in Europe and there is the rise of a more aggressive and dominant China, as well as, assertive Russia. In this changed scenarios India is now embarking on a policy of multi alignment. It has further deepened it’s strategic relationship with US, improved relations with SAARC countries except Pakistan, strengthened relations with Russia and improved it’s relations with UAE and Saudi Arabia. Even with China, efforts have been to find common grounds of mutual convergence and find solutions to resolve contentious issues. New alliances in the formation of Quad, active role in BRICS, ASEAN, IBSA, G-4 are all indicators of a new assertive and confident India. Winds of change in relations at world stage are evident and there has been a consensus in appreciating India’s long stated position on addressing the menace of terrorism. Amongst the world nations by and large there has been an unambiguous consensus against terrorism as was on apartheid and colonialism. Blocs and alliances are less relevant today as the world moves towards a loosely arranged order. Prime Minister’s skipping of NAM Summit  a second time is in line with the  new thought process and changing relevance. India is now focussed on connecting it’s development story closely with its foreign policy goals. India has achieved remarkable success in social services , from gas connections to sanitation, ease of living, ease of business which are all in tune with it’s growth story of sustainable development. India has also projected itself as a  crusader  of environment protection and taken strong stance against climate change. With India focussing on domestic economic goals, strategic ties with US, strengthening  relations with all major powers including China  and moving away from a Pak centric approach are all  policy changes in line with it seeking a much larger, relevant position at the world stage.

Way Ahead

The recent abrogation of Article 370 and the response from various countries to our internal decision, bears testimony to the rising soft power influence where besides Pakistan only three countries voiced their dissent to Indian government’s actions. Yet, many cobwebs from decades of inaction need to be cleaned, more broad-based reforms are still needed. With a strong government   striving to reach out to all major powers, if we indulge in a policy of do not provoke and nor get provoked, exploit the rising soft power potential of our country fully and concentrate on building up a more vibrant and robust economy, then this could well be an inflection point in India’s rise as a world power.