The proliferation of mass media – television, radio, internet and print media – with its reach across vast swaths of the globe has made it a strategic imperative for countries today to proactively manage their image and perceptions if they are to become a Soft power. Forming, communicating and managing India’s appealing attributes in an era of 24/7 news becomes increasingly important to how we are perceived by other nations and peoples. A corollary to communicating our attributes is that we need to contemplate and define the attributes that best define us as a nation. [i]
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2. India is fortunate enough to be endowed with a rich ‘Soft Power’. The foundation of India’s Soft Power is its pluralism, tolerance, secularism, unparallel cultural heritage of music, dance-drama, yoga, Ayurveda and a tradition of absolute thinking. This tradition of abstract thinking has given an unrivalled edge in the contemporary world. It is this tradition of abstract thinking which has put India in the centre-stage of Information Technology. A long tradition of learning enabled India to master modern Western Science & Technology. IITs and IIMs and other Institutes become the primary vehicles of keeping abreast with the western Science and Technology. The appeal of its democratic system and growing economic success make it an exciting counterpart to more authoritarian China and a far more affluent United States.
3. What India can achieve can be guestimated from the following figures: [ii]
(a) 38% of doctors in America are Indians.
(b) 12% of Scientists in USA are Indians.
(c) 36% of NASA employees are Indians.
(d) 34% of Microsoft employees are Indians.
(e) 28% of IBM employees are Indians.
(f) 17% of Intel employees are Indian.
(g) 13% of Xerox employees are Indians.
(h) 23% of Indian Community in the USA is having green Card.
(J) In Silicon Valley, one third of the engineers are of Indian descent and 70% of high-tech firms are led by Indian CEOs.
4. This is what Indians can achieve in the most developed country of the ‘developed world’ – USA. So, is India in a position to get due recognition by other nations of the world? Its economy is growing at a stupendous rate of over eight percent. India now is a nuclear power, having the fourth largest military, and supports over 17.5 percent of the world’s population. Its foreign exchange is a whooping 313 billion dollars and growing. Indians dominate the list of top 10 billionaires, with four Indians on the list. Does this prove the grandeur of India? So, now can it have a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, and be allowed to join the elite power group? Can it now be placed above the ‘Third World’ status, and be known to the world as a developed country? India has not adequately utilized its Soft Power resources at home and through the Indian Diaspora. India should realize where its strengths lie if it wants to resurrect its image. In Shashi Tharoor’s words, “India must determine where its strengths lie as it seeks to make the twenty-first century its own.” [iii]
5. So where does India stand in terms of Soft power potential? Today, we find ourselves often being referred to as a “potential power” in spite of nearly half a decade of record economic growth. To be acknowledged as a global power India needs to unlock its vast potential to be a Soft power. We are uniquely positioned to tap into the characteristics – an ancient culture, expanding economy, vibrant democracy, spirituality, diversity, and a widespread Diaspora – which provide India with core attributes that are attractive to the World. Examples of success abound, Bollywood today reaches an audience twice as large as that of Hollywood; our Information Technology industry competes globally; Yoga has become mainstream in the west, and even the IIT’s and IIM’s have become synonymous with world class education. India’s philanthropic efforts in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and more recently the aid offered to countries affected by the tsunami underscores our concern for the world around us. For India to truly become a tour de force in the community of nations, it needs to look at its weaknesses and turn them into our biggest opportunity by offering the world a new vision, a vision that would have to be rooted in our own success. [iv]
6. Topping the list of Indian soft power is its spirituality. Spiritualism is the ultimate thirst-quencher of the human soul; it is the only solace provider, the bliss, the only universal solution to human problems. It is that way of life which leads to completeness. It is this India that has nurtured and allowed spiritualism to thrive and flourish, to see a man or woman becoming a complete human being. India (also called the blessed land of gods) has given birth to major religions of the world-Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Christianity reached India before it reached Rome or Europe. Islam, too, is in full bloom. India’s culture has absorbed all these religions, with its followers living in harmony with one another. This has added to the richness of its culture, and it represents a perfect archetype of “unity in diversity.” [v]
7. The values of love, peace and brotherhood are the qualities that Indians are known for, with Gautama Buddha, Mahavir, Ashoka and Mohandas K. Gandhi being prime examples. At present, the Indian diaspora seems to be winning the hearts of the world with their endearing character and peaceful qualities. Sreeram Chaulia, in his article, “The Geat Indian Diaspora,” mentions that, “For the most part, an average American, Canadian or Dutchman does not see Indian immigrants as national security or economic threats, thanks to their humble, flexible and endearing qualities.” [vi]
8. India is acutely aware of the importance of soft power and cultural attractivity, and needs to do little to render its culture appealing to the rest of the world. The process is natural, almost organic. This is consistent with India’s long history as both a birthplace of ideas, and of peaceful cultural diffusion. The peaceful propagation of Buddhism is a multi-millennia old bond that India shares with the rest of the Asian continent that acts as a testament to the power of its civilizational pull. [vii]
9. While India may still have miles to go in its quest to be a global political power, the world is already embracing it as a cultural superpower. From Bollywood films and food to authors like Kiran Desai conquering the Booker Street, brand India has seen transformation of sorts. No wonder, cultural diplomacy has evolved into a significant track II. Brand India is now flexing its muscles as a soft power, which is essentially the international influence a nation acquires when others are drawn to its culture and ideas. While the term may have become clichéd, it is being taken seriously by the South Block given the huge potential and gains that it may accrue. “Earlier cultural diplomacy was considered peripheral, now the message is clear: Soft Power is important and the idea behind the festival is to project India as a plural multicultural society and to achieve the goals of political diplomacy,” says Dr Karan Singh, president, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). [viii]
10. While cultural diplomacy may not always provide solutions, it can help narrow differences. For instance, troubled relations with a country like Pakistan can be improved by cultural diplomacy, which India is currently engaged in. Besides strategic gains, it will supplement India’s economic relations with countries like China and can boost tourism, where India has fared below its potential.
11. India’s ambitions to be treated like a global leader of world governance at this juncture can be realised, as it is being respected as a global emerging economy and the largest democracy in the world. It is being seen as part of the new economic wall of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), and an emerging southern voice called IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa). Many developing countries in the world are looking towards India to provide them with support (technical, professional, material) in their trajectories of development. This preference is more readily reflected in their deep appreciation of indigenous models and practices of development and progress that India is credited to have evolved so successfully.
12. The challenge before the Indian government, its political leadership and its people today is to practically demonstrate ways in which its ‘soft’ power could be made accessible to many of these developing countries around the world. India’s ‘soft’ power is enormous, and official leadership can acknowledge and mobilise it to make India a truly global leader. [ix]
13. India has also increasingly sought to expand its activities as a donor, both to reposition itself as an emerging power and to use aid as an instrument for engaging with other developing countries. [x]
14. When it comes to defining India’s more modern ‘soft power’ Bollywood is often cited, and with reason, as a prime example. The glittering, flamboyant films churned out by Mumbai’s gargantuan film industry have long been popular in certain regions of the world such as the Middle East ,Central Asia, South East Asia, North Africa, South Africa and throughout South Asia and the United States.
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15. Over the past decade, however, Bollywood has been making inroads elsewhere. One of the most popular current viral videos in India shows a man in the depths of Tajikistan passionately humming and singing a Bollywood theme song to his bemused Indian visitors-all in perfectly memorized Hindi. In certain African countries, such as Senegal and Mali, villagers often trek out miles to the closest projection room just to be able to watch one of the latest Bollywood films. Little does it matter that they do not understand the dialogue or that it is set in a distant land; the themes of love, family and marriage they evoke are universal, and the sparkling opulence of the dances, costumes and songs have the gift of enchanting the minds of moviegoers far less jaded than those in the West. [xi] Many Asian and ‘South Asian’ countries increasingly came to find Indian cinema as more suited to their sensibilities than Western cinema. Jigna Desai holds that by the 21st century Indian cinema had managed to become ‘deterritorialized’, spreading over to the many parts of the world where Indian diaspora was present in significant numbers, and becoming an alternative to other international cinema.
16. Indian cinema has more recently begun influencing Western musical films, and played a particularly instrumental role in the revival of the genre in the Western world. Baz Luhrmann stated that his successful musical film Moulin Rouge (2001) was directly inspired by Bollywood musicals. Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was also directly inspired by Indian films, and is considered to be “homage to Hindi commercial cinema”. Films by progressive female Indian directors such as Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta have revealed that Indian films are more than escapist fantasies, and can be simultaneously contemplative and entertaining.
17. India is the world’s largest producer of films. In 2009, India produced a total of 2961 films on celluloid that include a staggering figure of 1288 feature films. The provision of 100% foreign direct investment has made the Indian film market attractive for foreign enterprises such as 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros. Tax incentives to multiplexes have aided the multiplex boom in India. By 2003 as many as 30 film production companies had been listed in the National Stock Exchange of India, making the commercial presence of the medium felt.
18. The Indian Diaspora consists of millions of Indians overseas for which films are made available both through mediums such as DVDs and by screening of films in their country of residence wherever commercially feasible. These earnings, accounting for some 12% of the revenue generated by a mainstream film, contribute substantially to the overall revenue of Indian cinema, the net worth of which was found to be US$1.3 billion in 2000. Music in Indian cinema is another substantial revenue generator, with the music rights alone accounting for 4-5% of the net revenues generated by a film in India.
19. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has envisioned a whole new role for Bollywood, noting India’s ‘soft power’, especially the film industry, can be put to use as an important instrument of foreign policy. The Indian Prime minister says:
“The soft power of India in some ways can be a very important instrument of foreign policy. Cultural relations, India’s film industry, Bollywood … I find wherever I go in the Middle East, in Africa, people talk about Indian films”. [xii]
20. Bruce Springsteen released a song some time back – 57 channels and nothing on! 57 seemed like a good number then and India had 6 channels. Today the Indian TV industry supports more than 600 channels and there are 400 more channels in the offing – awaiting governmental clearances. Indian TV studios churn out news in more than 10 languages, with an entertainment library which is now more than 10,00,000 hours of programming. India is global leader by a vast stretch. Europe by comparison is a toddler – and the only other comparison with India is USA. [xiii]
21. When the Indian TV soap opera ‘Kynunki Saas Bhi’ was dubbed in Dari and aired on Afghanistan’s Tolo TV it was such an astounding success that it became a national obsession. 90% of television-owning Afghan families would follow the show, sometimes incurring the wrath of mullahs who viewed it as being responsible for the desertion of mosques during evening prayers. [xiv]
The World’s Largest Music Industry
22. India releases more music, in more languages, than any other country in the world. We have, of course, the world’s oldest living tradition in music. Compared to India’s music tradition of 3000+ years (at least), Western Music is about 400-500 years old. Most are aware of modern music – but the scene in classical music is still very vibrant. Bhajans from Mirabai’s, Tulsidas, Surdas of 500 years ago, continue to sell in volumes and are in demand. Thyagaraja’s and Dikshitaar’s compositions in Telugu, 300 years old are still mainstream music. Compare this to the Western classical music, itself originating from the Romany Gypsy music. Western classical music has become a fringe music tradition, while India’s Bhakti geet is alive and vibrant. [xv]
University & Higher Education.
23. One of the ways in which India’s soft power in education can be significantly enhanced is by becoming a global hub for higher education. The US and the UK realized the importance of this and opened its doors to foreign students in the 20th century. India has some natural advantages to attract students in terms of low annual tuition fees (less than $ 10,000 per year), low cost of living and most of the universities teaching in English capable of handling English speaking students. India can attract many students from emerging economies in Africa and Asia. India has the potential to become a global education hub and also rival Bollywood with education as a soft power.
24. In this twenty first century, India is regarded as a knowledge-producing machine, with its doctors, engineers, scientists and software professionals being the first preference of the international community. Indian education is high quality. Barack Obama, the U.S. President, in his election campaign had promised Americans that he would improve the level of American education to such high standards so as to enable the American students to compete with the students of India and China. Also, according to R N. Vijay, Martin Luther King once said, “When I go to other nations, I go to preach. When I go to India, I go to learn.” [xvi] These examples show reverence for Indian wisdom.
25. In the US, there are Indians in almost all the good research labs. Indian doctors have made a name for themselves in many parts of the world. Many of the Indian immigrants to the US have been professionals – engineers, doctors, scientists, etc. If India is able to contribute more to this growing tribe of educated professionals, it will create yet another category of soft power.
26. The Indian healthcare industry is seen to be growing at a rapid pace and is expected to become a US$280 billion industry by 2020. The Indian healthcare market was estimated at US$35 billion in 2007 and is expected to reach over US$70 billion by 2012 and US$145 billion by 2017. [xvii]
27. India is quickly becoming a hub for medical tourists seeking quality healthcare at an affordable cost. Reduced costs, access to the latest medical technology, growing compliance to international quality standards and ease of communication all work towards India’s advantage. Foreigners in increasing numbers are now coming to India for private health care. They come from the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, for complex paediatric cardiac surgery or liver transplants-procedures that are not done in their home countries. They also come from the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America for quick, efficient, and cheap coronary bypasses or orthopaedic procedures. A shoulder operation in the UK would cost £10 000 ($17 460; â‚¬14 560) done privately or entail several months’ wait under the NHS. In India, the same operation can be done for £1700 and within 10 days of a first email contact. [xviii]
28. Traditional Indian rejuvenation methods like yoga, ayurvedic massage find favour with people in western countries and corporate hospitals and wellness centers are cashing on this. Allopathic system of medicine has reached its tether. It is no more in a position to cure the civilizational diseases of the day – heart ailments, Cancer, AIDS and diseases related to digestive system. Therefore there is talk of an alternative system of medicine. Ayurveda has all the potential as an alternative system of medicine without any side-effect.
29. Yoga is an ancient practice of keeping the body healthy and non-diseased. Yoga has all the powers to heal all kinds of incurable diseases. With the emergence of Baba Ramdev, Yoga has certainly become popular and pervasive all over the world. But the unfortunate fact remains that Indian State has made the least efforts to popularize it. With the rising longevity of mankind, Yoga’s relevance would further increase. No amount of food and medicine can keep the body fit and fine in base age of one’s life. Yoga is indispensable in late age of one’s life to keep the body healthy and non-diseased.
30. The biggest instrument of our soft power is the Indian Diaspora. The Indian diaspora can play a major role in spreading the soft power of India through the immense influence that they possess in their residential countries. [xix] Mr. Yashwant Sinha, according to C. Raja Mohan, pointed out that, “people of Indian origin are extremely important sources of support for the Indian Government in the execution of its policies through the influence and respect they command in the countries in which they live.” [xx]
31. Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji, Tobago, Trinidad, Singapore and many other countries at some point or the other have experienced the leadership of a person of Indian origin. In the developed countries too, they are leaving no stone unturned, and all this just in order to enhance the intangible standing of India. During Presidential elections in the US, the Indian community is targeted by the candidates, which is also a reflection of the clout that this community enjoys. [xxi]
32. India once again seeks to leverage the tremendous intellectual, financial and communicative resources of its diaspora, estimated to number 25 million, widely scattered across five continents. Through their glittering academic and professional careers overseas, the diaspora opened the eyes of the West to India as a reliable destination for business process outsourcing (BPO) and for the cutting-edge phenomenon- knowledge process outsourcing (KPO). India is the proud recipient of more remittances from its Diaspora than any other country, beating China and Mexico and reigning at $21.7 billion per annum. [xxii]
33. A well run
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