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INDIA’S SOFT POWER AND CULTURAL DIPLOMACY

INTRODUCTION
In the realm of International Relations, power plays a major role; it can be said that it is a unit to measure the influence of a nation. The greater the power, the more influence a nation wields, and consequently, it has a more significant role in decision-making and the workings of international geopolitics. The world for a long time talked about power in Hard dimensions, in recent years however a new term has come up endorsing power as Soft. The term Soft Power first used by the eminent IR scholar Joseph Nye says the aspect of power “which occurs when one country gets other countries to want what it wants, might be called co-optive or soft power.”[1]  He states that it is in contrast to the Hard Power of ordering or commanding others to do what it wants. This form of power focuses on gaining influence through Culture, values, Narrative, Ideology and institutions and is as important as other forms of power, it provides the state acceptance, appeal and recognition in the International arena.

A seasoned diplomat and Former ambassador, H.H.S.Viswanathan in his speech argue that soft power is a process, not a product and that projection of one’s culture is considered good; however, aggressive projection of a big and historical nation’s culture in smaller countries, particularly in the neighbourhood, can be interpreted as cultural imperialism. Hence, the important thing is how one uses the instruments. Soft Power ultimately becomes a process and not a product[2]. The aim of soft power is the same as hard power i.e. to protect one’s interest.

Soft Power can be defined in many ways but one aspect that plays a significant role in the building soft power is culture. Culture is an instrument; every State has its own culture but to make this culture into a source of power it must be utilized strategically and in a way that this culture turns into a widely recognizable cultural identity. This cultural identity can be capitalized upon to further generate soft power. Therefore, to acquire this soft power, nations resort to cultural diplomacy. Cultural diplomacy serves as the conduit through which culture can be effectively wielded by nations. Cultural diplomacy here refers to a form of public diplomacy that helps the country gain soft power[3]. This perspective views culture as part of foreign policy and a means of expressing soft power in the international arena[4].

Milton Cummings, a renowned political scientist, defines cultural diplomacy as “the exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding[5]. Diplomacy is the art through which relations are built between countries and when we use the factors of culture, it becomes Cultural Diplomacy. This can be done through cultural engagement, sharing of thoughts, ideas, values, traditions and people-to-people connections. Culture plays a crucial role in influencing the policies we design.[6] Soft power is hence the end result of this cultural diplomacy.

India is a culturally rich state. The most important element is India’s long history, culture and civilization. For India, this means giving attention, encouragement and active support to the aspects and products of Indian society and culture that the world would find attractive not in order directly to persuade others to support India, but rather to enhance other countries’ intangible standing in their eyes[7].

INDIA’S SOFT POWER
India’s unique cultural heritage and diversity serve as the foundation of its soft power. Indian soft power consists of various factors that are unique and vibrant. India relies on its wide cultural practices, which include Bollywood cinema, yoga, Ayurvedic treatment, historical tourism, and unique, spice-rich cuisine among many others, to deploy soft power diplomacy.[8] India in all its forms throughout history has been a hub for culture and diversity to flourish.  The international impact of India’s soft power was felt long before the term found its place in popular parlance in the 21st century. Indian arts, culture and spiritualism have attracted people from all around the world for centuries[9].

India in its early days of Independence, lacking economically and militarily, sought to depend upon its Soft power capabilities in the name of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), an ideology that India used as an instrument to counter the Cold War bloc politics. Further, India is renowned as the world’s largest Democracy and as the values of democracy have a wider appeal in world politics, India’s commitment to these principles further enhances its international standing and influence. India’s endurance for democracy and freedom are major values that enhance its soft power[10].

Another major component of India’s soft power is the Indian Diaspora. These people of Indian heritage or origin have migrated and established themselves all across the world. They not only help in disseminating Indian culture but have also, on occasion, contributed to promoting our foreign policy goals[11]. They are a major tool in building and strengthening relations with their host country. They also have the capability to influence policies and internal matters of the host countries.

India has a growing technological sector, with a thriving IT industry and innovations in fields like space exploration, which also contribute significantly to its soft power. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with successful missions like the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) captured global attention and admiration. This technological capability not only showcases India’s scientific prowess but also positions it as a leader in affordable and innovative solutions in space technology. Such recognition is crucial in providing the state with a platform where it can shape and influence perceptions further adding to the soft power of a country.

India is rich and abundant with ideological, economic, social, technological and most importantly cultural soft power. When understanding soft power as a product, yes, but according to H.H. Vishwanathan soft power is not a product but a process as discussed before. He argues that the way one uses an instrument of soft power is more important because that’s what determines the soft power a country holds. This can only be achieved by the means of diplomacy. Culture is the most significant dimension of India’s soft power process.

Prime Minister Modi in his first term, reoriented Indian diplomacy by combining new elements of soft power. The five pillars of this soft power, used in a strategic sense are Samman (dignity), Samvaad (dialogue), Samriddhi (shared prosperity), Suruksha (regional and global security), and Sanskriti evam Sabhayata (Cultural and civilizational links).[12] This approach towards soft power diplomacy aims to utilize the Indian soft power instruments more efficiently.

CULTURAL DIPLOMACY OF INDIA
The concept of cultural diplomacy is the “sharing of ideas, information, values, systems, traditions, beliefs and other aspects of culture, with the objective of improving mutual understanding, with the ability to forge and preserve enduring bonds of trust serving as the ultimate goal
”.[13] The aim of cultural diplomacy is to tap into the potential of the culture of a State as an instrument for gaining soft power. Cultural diplomacy is the means and approaches used by a state to acquire soft power and fulfil its objectives.

Cultural diplomacy, the earliest form of diplomacy, is highly people-centric. As people travel, they carry their culture, traditions, food, fashion, language, and art forms. These together form the core of a cultural identity and are crucial for a nation’s soft power. India has historically leveraged this aspect of diplomacy. When India’s culture, art, and spiritual treasure drew travellers from all over the world for millennia, the international reach and acknowledgement of the nation’s soft power were already realized.[14]

India is renowned worldwide for its unique and well-preserved culture. One example of such a preserved culture is yoga. Yoga, the treasure of Indian ancient knowledge and teachings has been strategically promoted by the government leading to the UN General Assembly recognising 21st June as the International Day of Yoga.

Furthermore, tourism plays a vital role in cultural engagement. India in 2008, launched its ‘Incredible India’ campaign. Following the campaign, a significant surge in the tourism sector was observed. The Ministry Of Tourism noted that the ‘Incredible India’ campaign generated a positive image of India as a ‘must-see’ and interesting destination.[15] ‘Incredible India’, ramped up its impressive presence in World Travel Market (WTM) 2023 with resounding success, solidifying India’s position as a must-visit global destination[16]

The Cultural Diplomacy Initiatives by the State of India are organized and taken care of by The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). The ICCR forms the backbone of Indian cultural diplomacy. It was established in the year 1950 with key objectives to establish, revive and strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries, and to promote cultural exchange with other countries.[17] ICCR in its Annual Report 2022 recorded that ninety cultural troupes and delegations were sent through ICCR’s sponsorship and support during the year[18] to promote Indian cultural art forms like Khatak, Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music, Folk dance, Qawwali, Hindustani classical music, Theater etc. ICCR Coordinated over 300 cultural programs in over 60 locations across the country during India’s G20 presidency in 2023.[19] Such initiatives by the State help to promote Indian culture at the global level.

Moreover, culture is more of a public affair than a State initiative. While Cultural diplomacy is initiated by a State, its success largely depends on public affairs and engagements.  H.H.S.Viswanathan in his lecture on India’s Soft Power Diplomacy states that there has to be a people-centric approach, Governments cannot do beyond facilitating the process[20].

Considering this, the Indian diaspora plays a crucial role in propagating Indian culture worldwide. Celebrating Indian Festivals like Holi and Diwali, numerous Indian concerts and cultural programs, are organized by non-resident Indians celebrating their culture in foreign lands. Indian cinema and fashion are also getting popularized, and Indian cuisine is well-known and loved around the world. Since 2024, the United Nations (UN) stated that India is the world’s most populous country and Indian diaspora will continue to grow which is an important strong suit for creating a positive perception of the nation[21].

INDIA’S CHALLENGES AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
India often speaks positively about its Soft Power yet its absence from the Soft Power 30 Index is notable. Since gaining independence, India has consistently battled negative, racist perceptions and stereotypes often rooted in its colonial past. Overcoming these challenges has been essential for India’s aspiration to emerge as a leading global Power.

India’s biggest challenge is to counter the perception that it is a country of widespread poverty, social inequalities and classism, assaults on women, caste discrimination, gender discrimination and much more. A significant reason behind this negative perception is the media that is biased and ill-informed with a lack of Indian representation and the perpetuation of misinformation. Former ambassador Anil Trigunayat states that such stereotypes in the Western media not only misrepresent India’s efforts but also perpetuate outdated colonial attitudes.[22] According to the Pew Research Center’s report on International views of India and Modi, a median of 46% say they have a favourable view of India, compared with a median of 34% with an unfavourable view.[23]

This is concerning for India’s Soft power. As India aspires to become a leading power in world politics such perceptions play is major role in the growth and development of India. Additionally, while India is reported by the International media in poor terms, at the same time, India’s associations have started to change over the past quarter century from a land of poverty to a source of software programmers and techies.[24]

Culture and cultural diplomacy have emerged as the force to connect, to build bilateral relations and to heal the raptures created by history and politics.[25] One successful example is Japan which has been successful in cultural diplomacy as it turned its perception significantly since the World War II Era. India is also abundant in cultural Soft Power products which it must strategically utilize to rebuild India’s Image. This will require strong efforts by the State institution and machinery.

A Standing Committee by the Ministry of External Affairs released its report on ‘India’s Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy: Prospects and Limitations”, on December 12, 2022. it noted the following limitations that India is facing in its Cultural Diplomacy: (i) inadequate financing, (ii) lack of coordination among various institutions, (iii) shortage of skilled manpower, and (iv) lack of clarity on the mandate of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).[26]  The Committee presented key observations and recommendations like the complete remodelling of ICCR to better project Indian Culture and ICCR’s budgetary allocation of Rs 500 crore[27]. It further recommended a working group on Cultural Diplomacy, the constitution of a Yoga Certification Board, a Mechanism to interact with the Indian Diaspora and the Promotion Of tourism in the Country.

CONCLUSION
India is working towards building a strong nation and its journey towards harnessing its soft power and leveraging cultural diplomacy as a strategic tool has been both promising and challenging. India recognizes the importance of soft power in shaping international relations and world Politics and it has made significant efforts to showcase its rich cultural heritage, diverse traditions, and technological prowess on the global stage. However, the preconceived notions and misinformation have caused India to Face significant obstacles that hinder its soft power projection and global influence.

One of the key strengths of India’s soft power is the deep-rooted cultural heritage, along with various facets like Bollywood cinema, yoga, Ayurveda, historical tourism, and cuisine. These cultural instruments not only resonate with the masses across the globe but also serve as an impact tool for cultural diplomacy. Additionally, India’s commitment to the values of democracy and freedom further enhances its soft power appeal. Other factors such as the Indian diaspora, music and other art forms play a pivotal role in establishing people-to-people connections. The diaspora Acts as a bridge between the State and the rest of the world, promoting Indian Culture.

India has been recently rising economically and well as geopolitical and despite such cultural abundance and policy implementation by the state, India has been facing challenges in building itself as a nation with strong soft power. A continued investment in cultural diplomacy, media outreach, tourism and public diplomacy initiatives is required to reshape global perceptions and strengthen National identity and place value.

In conclusion, India has a vast and multifaceted soft power potential that is rooted in its rich cultural heritage, democratic values, and technological advancements. With well-implemented initiatives India can leverage these strengths and address existing challenges, emerging as a leading power in the 21st century. Through strategic investments, India can enhance its soft power projection and shape a more favourable narrative on the world stage, contributing to India’s economic, political and social development and growth and fulfilling India’s Objectives and Goals.

REFERENCES 

[1] Nye, J. S. (1990). Soft Power. Foreign Policy, 80, 153–171. https://doi.org/10.2307/1148580 .

[2] H.H.S.Viswanathan (2019).India’s Soft Power Diplomacy.Ministry of External Affairs, Government of  India.https://www.mea.gov.in/distinguished-lectures-detail.htm?850

[3] Zhou(2022).The Developing Role of Cultural Diplomacy in Soft Power?.Linköping University,23

[4] Zamorano, M. M. (2016). Reframing cultural diplomacy: the instrumentalization of culture under the soft power theory. Culture Unbound, 8(2), 165-186.

[5] Cummings, Milton C., Jr. (2003): Cultural Diplomacy and the United States Government: A Survey,

Washington D.C: Center for Arts and Culture

[6] Shome  Pranay (2022).Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy in the Contemporary World.Diplomacy and Beyond. https://diplomacybeyond.com/soft-power-and-cultural-diplomacy-in-the-contemporary-world/

[7] Tharoor, S. (2011). India as a Soft Power. India International Centre Quarterly, 38(3/4), 330–343. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41803989

[8] Dahiya, Bhavna. (2023). Cultural Diplomacy of India Bhavna Dahiya. 11. 382-387. 10.55948/IJERED.2023.01068.

[9] Mukherjee Bhaswati  (2019).India’s culture Diplomacy and Soft Power. https://www.mea.gov.in/distinguished-lectures-detail-hi.htm?855

[10] Khara  M.(2018).Understanding of India’s Soft Power Dynamics.Asian Review of Social Sciences, Vol(7) 3,123-131. https://trp.org.in/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ARSS-Vol.7-No.3-October-December-2018-pp.123-131-4.pdf

[11] Viswanathan, H. H. S. (2019). India’s Soft Power Diplomacy: Capturing Hearts and Minds. Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, 14(2), 129–136. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48636719

[12] Amb (Retd) Bhaswati Mukherjee(2018).India’s culture Diplomacy and Soft Power,https://www.mea.gov.in/distinguished-lectures-detail.htm?855

[13] Cummings, Milton C., Jr. (2003): Cultural Diplomacy and the United States Government: A Survey,

Washington D.C: Center for Arts and Culture

[14] Dahiya, Bhavna. (2023). Cultural Diplomacy of India Bhavna Dahiya. 11. 382-387. 10.55948/IJERED.2023.01068.

[15] Assessment of International Media Campaigns of the Ministry of Tourism for United States (2023).Market Research Division Ministry of Tourism Government of India, https://tourism.gov.in/sites/default/files/2020-04/Pardes_%20FINAL%20AUST%20%20Report_28TH%20JAN%20new.pdf

[16] Sustainability Tourism takes center stage as India made a remarkable presence at World Travel Market, London 2023. Ministry of Tourism,https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1975896

[17]  Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Ministry of External Affairs , Government of India, https://www.iccr.gov.in/index.php/about-us/history

[18] Indian Council for Cultural Relations(2022). ICCR Annual Report 2022-23..Ministry of External Affairs , Government of India,75-76, https://www.iccr.gov.in/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/2024-02/English%20AR%202022-23-1%20%281%29.pdf

[19] Indian Council for Cultural Relations(2022). ICCR Annual Report 2022-23..Ministry of External Affairs , Government of India,75-76, https://www.iccr.gov.in/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/2024-02/English%20AR%202022-23-1%20%281%29.pdf

[20] Viswanathan .H(2019).India’s Soft Power Diplomacy. Ministry of external affairs, India, https://www.mea.gov.in/distinguished-lectures-detail.htm?850

[21] Amaresh P.(2020).The rise of India as a global soft power.The Diplomat, https://diplomatist.com/2020/08/27/rise-of-india-as-a-global-soft-power/

[22] Trigunayat A.(2024).Unveiling the Western Media’s Biases in reporting on India and the Global South.Impact and Policy Research Institute, https://www.impriindia.com/insights/unveiling-the-western-medias-biases/

[23] Huang C., Gagan M.,Gubbala S. (2023).Views of India Lean Positive Across 23 Countries. Pew Research Center

https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2023/08/29/international-views-of-india-and-modi/

[24] Jaishanker D.(2018).India rising: Soft power and the world’s largest democracy. The Brookings Institution, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/india-rising-soft-power-and-the-worlds-largest-democracy/

[25]https://www.mea.gov.in/distinguished-lectures-detail.htm?855#:~:text=The%20five%20pillars%20of%20this,(Cultural%20and%20civilizational%20links).

[26] Standing Committee Report Summary India’s Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy https://prsindia.org/policy/report-summaries/india-s-soft-power-and-cultural-diplomacy

[27]Standing Committee Report Summary India’s Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy https://prsindia.org/policy/report-summaries/india-s-soft-power-and-cultural-diplomacy

AUTHOR
Sanika Godbole
RLA Research Intern

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