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Bridging the soft power gap: India’s quest for global influence

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Soft power, the ability to attract people without coercion, is becoming an increasingly important tool for countries to enhance their global standing. Soft power comes from a country’s culture, values, policies, and institutions, and it can shape the perceptions and preferences of others. In today’s world, where information is disseminated rapidly and widely through various media platforms, a country’s ability to project its soft power is crucial for its global influence.

India, as one of the world’s largest economies and oldest civilizations, has many advantages when it comes to projecting soft power. However, despite its many strengths, India has struggled to project its soft power on the global stage. According to the Soft Power 30 rankings 2022, published by Portland and Facebook, India does not figure in the top 30 countries, ranking significantly below its hard power ranking. Although India has improved its ranking in last few years, this is still a significant disappointment, given India’s rich history, cultural diversity, democratic traditions, and growing economic power.

The Importance of Soft Power

Soft power is becoming an increasingly important tool for countries to enhance their global influence. The world is changing, and traditional power structures are no longer dominant. The rise of emerging economies, globalization, and the rapid spread of information through social media have transformed the way nations interact with one another. In this new world, countries with the ability to project their soft power can shape the perceptions and preferences of others, influencing their economic, political, and social behavior.

Soft power is particularly important for countries like India, which is rapidly emerging as a major economic and geopolitical player. India is the world’s fifth-largest economy by nominal GDP and the third largest by purchasing power parity. India’s strategic location, natural resources, and large population give it significant potential as a global power. India is also the world’s most Populus country as well as the largest democracy and a leader in science, technology, and innovation.

However, India’s soft power has not kept pace with its hard power. Soft power is about building relationships and trust with other countries, which can create opportunities for trade, investment, and cooperation. India has not been able to meet its soft power potential in a sustained and impactful manner, limiting its ability to build these relationships and alliances

India’s Soft Power Potential

India has many advantages when it comes to projecting soft power. India is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, with a rich cultural heritage and a diverse population. India is home to many of the world’s major religions, and it has a long history of peaceful coexistence among different faiths. India’s democratic traditions, respect for human rights, and commitment to the rule of law are also significant soft power assets. India has a thriving film industry, which is the largest in the world in terms of the number of films produced. India’s cuisine, yoga, Ayurveda, and traditional medicine are also gaining popularity around the world.

International Day of Yoga is a very good example of how India can leverage its age-old wisdom and knowledge to further its soft power on the world stage. International Day of Yoga celebrated annually on June 21st. The day was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, following a proposal by Indian Prime Minister. The day aims to raise awareness about the benefits of yoga and to promote its practice worldwide.

Yoga, a practice that originated in ancient India, has gained immense popularity globally over the past few decades. Today, it is practiced by millions of people in different parts of the world, and its benefits have been widely recognized by medical professionals and fitness experts. By promoting yoga and making it accessible to people worldwide, India has been able to showcase its soft power.

World Yoga Day provides an excellent opportunity for India to project its soft power on a global scale. By organizing events and activities related to yoga, India has been showcasing its rich cultural heritage and promote a healthy lifestyle. The day has become an important platform for Indian diplomats and leaders to engage with people from different parts of the world and build cultural and diplomatic ties.

The popularity of World Yoga Day has been growing every year, with more and more countries and communities organizing events to celebrate the day. In 2020, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the day was celebrated virtually in many parts of the world. The success of virtual celebrations is a testament to the growing importance of World Yoga Day in projecting India’s soft power.

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Ayurveda has gained immense popularity in recent years due to its holistic approach to health and wellness. This system of medicine has been used to treat various ailments, including chronic diseases, mental health issues, and lifestyle disorders.

Like Yoga, Ayurveda has played an important role in projecting India’s soft power to the world. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a traditional medicine system, and several countries have shown interest in adopting Ayurvedic practices. The popularity of Ayurveda has led to the establishment of Ayurvedic wellness centers and spas around the world, which offer a range of Ayurvedic treatments, including massages, herbal therapies, and detox programs.

India has also been promoting Ayurveda through international events such as the International Ayurveda Congress and the Global Ayurveda Festival. These events provide a platform for Ayurvedic practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to exchange ideas and share their experiences.

The Indian government has taken several steps to promote Ayurveda globally. It has established the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH) to promote Ayurveda and other traditional medicine systems in India and abroad. The government has also set up Ayurvedic research institutes and is providing financial assistance to Ayurvedic practitioners to establish wellness centers and clinics.

Ayurveda has the potential to contribute significantly to India’s soft power. By promoting Ayurveda, India can showcase its cultural heritage and traditional practices to the world. Ayurveda can also contribute to India’s economy by creating job opportunities in the wellness and healthcare sectors.

Ayurveda has been playing an important role in projecting India’s soft power to the world. India has been promoting Ayurveda through international events and the establishment of research institutes and wellness centers. By promoting Ayurveda, India can showcase its cultural heritage and traditional practices to the world and contribute to its economy

Opportunities for India to further enhance its soft power potential.

India’s cultural and historical wealth, diverse traditions, and a thriving entertainment industry provide an excellent foundation for projecting its soft power potential globally. To further enhance India’s soft power projection, certain areas need to be addressed. Unlike countries such as the US, UK, and China, successive Indian governments have not fully pursued soft power projection as a tool of foreign policy. In addition, India needs to communicate effectively with the world community to change its age-old perceptions and biases, which it has not done in the past.

The limited international media presence of India is also a hindrance to effective soft power projection, unlike countries such as the US, UK, Russia, and China, which have their own media networks. Lastly, India must leverage its rich cultural heritage to enhance its soft power, which it has not been able to do effectively. By addressing these areas, India can bridge its soft power gap and further enhance its potential for projecting its cultural and social values to the world community.

Leveraging these opportunities will be crucial for India to bridge its soft power gap and project its cultural and social values to the world community. A strategic and sustained effort to create a global media outreach and address domestic challenges will help India leverage its soft power potential and increase its global influence.

Initiatives India need to take to bridge the gap in soft power projection vis-à-vis potential

India’s soft power projection has been lagging behind its potential. To bridge this gap and effectively project its cultural and social values to the world community, India needs to take several initiatives such as:

Boosting its media presence: As discussed earlier, India needs to develop its own global media house to effectively project its cultural and social values. The media house should have a wide reach and effectiveness to propagate India’s soft power to the world community in a sustained and impactful manner. A global media house would prove very effective in projecting India’s soft power to the world community in a sustained and impactful manner. Countries such as the UK, US, Russia, and China have managed to further their national interests and foreign policy goals by setting up their own media networks such as BBC World Services, Voice of America, Russia Today, and CCTV and CNC World of China.

BBC World Services is the world’s leading broadcaster today, providing news, analysis, and reports in 28 languages to a global audience of some 150 million people. Its stated objective is to bring the UK to the world, and it is widely considered an important instrument of British soft power. The BBC World Service is established under Royal Charter and has an explicit agreement with the UK Government, which mandates the BBC to consult and cooperate with the Foreign Secretary and obtain such information regarding international developments, conditions in countries outside the UK, and the policies of UK Government in its international relations

Developing digital platforms: With the advancement of technology, digital platforms have emerged as an effective tool for soft power projection. India should focus on developing digital platforms, such as websites and mobile apps, that showcase its cultural and social values to the world community. These platforms can include information on India’s history, heritage, art, literature, and music.

Some of the notable initiatives include India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) a portal created by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India to showcase India’s economic potential to the world. It provides information on the Indian economy, sectors, investment opportunities, and policy initiatives, Incredible India tourism campaign launched by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India to promote India’s tourism potential to the world. The campaign uses digital platforms such as social media, mobile apps, and websites to showcase India’s tourist destinations, culture, and heritage, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR): ICCR is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, that promotes Indian culture and values abroad. It operates cultural centers and chairs in various countries, sponsors cultural events, and provides scholarships for foreign students to study in India.

Promoting Indian tourism: India is home to 40+ UNESCO World Heritage sites, Dholavira and Ramappa Temple are the latest addition to the list. Promoting Indian tourism will help showcase India’s culture, tradition, and social values to the world community. The Indian government has been actively investing in promoting Indian tourism and develop infrastructure that caters to tourists.

Encouraging cultural exchanges: India should encourage cultural exchanges with other countries, especially those in the Asia-Pacific region. These exchanges can include student exchange programs, cultural festivals, and tourism. Cultural exchanges will help showcase India’s cultural and social values to the world community.

Encouraging diaspora engagement: According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the estimated size of the Indian diaspora is around 32 million people spread across various regions of the world. This includes Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), and Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs). The Indian diaspora is spread across countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, and the Gulf countries. The Indian diaspora is known for its significant contributions to the host countries’ economies, cultural diversity, and social fabric.

The Indian diaspora is spread across the world, can be a significant asset in projecting India’s soft power. Last few years, India has significantly upped the diaspora engagement by providing them with opportunities to participate in cultural events and activities. This engagement will help create a positive image of India in the world community.

In recognition of the importance of the diaspora community, the Indian government has been organizing the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) since 2003. The PBD is a biennial event that brings together members of the Indian diaspora to celebrate their heritage and connect with their roots in India. The event also provides a platform for the Indian government to engage with the diaspora community, seek their support for various initiatives, and encourage them to contribute to India’s development.

The PBD has become an essential tool for India’s soft power projection, as it helps to foster a sense of connection and belonging among the diaspora community, which in turn helps to build goodwill towards India. The event also provides an opportunity for the Indian government to showcase India’s economic, cultural, and social achievements, which helps to enhance India’s image and reputation in the world.

The theme of the PBD varies from year to year, but it is always centered around the Indian diaspora and their role in India’s development. In recent years, the focus has been on the role of the diaspora in India’s economic growth and the promotion of India’s cultural heritage. Overall, the PBD is an essential component of India’s soft power strategy, as it helps to engage the diaspora community, build goodwill towards India, and promote India’s cultural and economic potential to the world. By strengthening its engagement with the diaspora, India can leverage their influence and networks to enhance its soft power projection and build stronger ties with the world community.

Focusing on education: Education is a powerful tool for soft power projection. The New Education Policy (NEP) of India, which was announced in 2020, has the potential to be a powerful tool for soft power projection. The policy aims to revolutionize India’s education system, making it more flexible, holistic, and interdisciplinary. It has several key components that can help project India’s cultural and intellectual values to the world.

One of the major components of the NEP is the emphasis on Indian languages. The policy proposes that children be taught in their mother tongue or regional language up to at least Grade 5, and preferably up to Grade 8. This emphasis on language is significant because language is an important carrier of cultural values and identity. By promoting Indian languages, the NEP can help showcase the diversity and richness of Indian culture to the world.

The NEP also emphasizes the importance of internationalization in education. It proposes the establishment of more international collaborations, both with universities and research institutions. This focus on internationalization can help project India’s education system as a global hub for knowledge and innovation. In addition, the NEP proposes the establishment of more research institutions and universities of global repute. This can help India become a destination for international students and scholars, which can help project India’s intellectual values and achievements to the world.

Overall, the NEP has the potential to be a powerful tool for soft power projection. By emphasizing Indian languages, interdisciplinary education, internationalization, and research excellence, the policy can help project India’s cultural and intellectual values to the world.

India’s medical tourism industry has emerged as a significant contributor to the country’s soft power. With its state-of-the-art hospitals, world-renowned doctors, and affordable prices, India has become a preferred destination for medical tourists from across the globe. Medical tourism not only helps India earn foreign exchange (US$ 7,417 Million) but also provides an opportunity to showcase the country’s healthcare capabilities to the world community. It highlights India’s potential in delivering high-quality healthcare services at a fraction of the cost compared to western countries. India’s medical tourism industry has been instrumental in projecting the country’s image as a hub for medical excellence and innovation. It has also helped in creating positive perceptions of India among the global community, contributing to the country’s soft power projection. Moreover, it also promotes cross-cultural understanding and people-to-people exchanges, which are crucial for enhancing soft power. The Indian government has been taking steps to promote medical tourism, including easing visa procedures, and providing financial incentives to hospitals and tour operators through a national medical and wellness tourism board of india. The sector has the potential to further boost India’s soft power, and it is essential to harness its benefits effectively.

In conclusion, India has the potential to be a soft power superpower, but it needs to take several initiatives to bridge its soft power gap. These initiatives include boosting its media presence, developing digital platforms, promoting Indian tourism, medical tourism, encouraging cultural exchanges, encouraging diaspora engagement, and focusing on education. By taking these initiatives, India can effectively project its cultural and social values to the world community and bridge its soft power gap.

Benefits India can accrue by bridging the gap in soft power projection vis-à-vis potential

By bridging the gap in soft power projection, India can enhance its global influence and image as a vibrant, dynamic, and progressive nation. This can lead to increased economic, diplomatic, and cultural ties with other countries, making India a preferred destination for tourism, investment, and talent. Soft power can also help India to shape the narrative about its cultural, social, and political values, and counter negative perceptions and biases. By projecting its soft power more effectively, India can also become a leader in regional and global forums and play a greater role in shaping the international order. In summary, bridging the gap in soft power projection can bring India several tangible and intangible benefits, and help to fulfill its aspirations of becoming a global superpower

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