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International Relations

Perspective: India's Soft Power

  • 26 Dec 2022
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: International Day of Yoga, Ayurveda, AYUSH, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR)

For Mains: India’s Soft Power: Importance, Challenges, Recommendations.

Why in News?

The Committee on External Affairs has recently presented its 16th Report on the prospects and limitations of India's Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy.

What is Soft Power?

  • Soft Power:
    • In contrast to the coercive nature of Hard power, Joseph Nye suggested the concept of soft power in post-cold war world
      • Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction.
      • The three pillars of soft power are:
        • Political values, culture, and foreign policy.
  • Hard Power:
    • Power in international relations has traditionally been understood in the context of military and economic might.
      • It is known as Hard power (which is quantifiable).
      • Hard power is deployed in the form of coercion:
        • Using force, the threat of force, economic sanctions etc.
  • Requirement:
    • Nye argues that successful states need both hard and soft power, the ability to coerce others as well as the ability to shape their long-term attitudes and preferences.

Soft Power: Why it's Important for India?

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.

  • For creating Goodwill: Indian ethos and practices has helped it build a benevolent image and tremendous goodwill globally, but it has to be backed with quality project delivery.
  • As a Strategic Investment: To become a leading strategic investor in commercially viable and financially attractive public-private partnership infrastructure projects, India needs to deliver on its promises.
  • Post-Pandemic Changes: With increased scope of cooperation and the realisation that global problems require global efforts, India’s role has gained prominence as the pharmacy of the World.
  • Trade and Investment Flow: To build an image of a trusted and reliable partner, India needs to make other countries believe in its commitment to deliver. This will lead to rising trade and investment flows to growing Indian markets.
  • Agreements and Communication: The projection of Soft power can help India establish agreement and communication between states through peaceful methods. It also helps build a brand for itself by promoting its Non-aligned commitments, Democratic values, morals, ethos, etc.
  • In order to Reach Globally: There is no denying the fact that India can use these instruments of soft power to reach out to the global audience—in turn, making an all-embracing impact on the worldwide market.
    • India’s ancient wisdom and spirituality needed to be utilised to capitalise on India’s leadership role in the world.

What are the Challenges?

  • Lack of Funds:
    • With limited capacity to fund infrastructure projects, India needs to rationally allot its funds, keeping in mind its strategic objectives.
    • Moreover, improving the Indian economy and opening up the market can help India to accumulate funds for international projects.
  • Lack of Institutional Framework:
    • India needs an independent development partnership agency that develops long-term and short-term strategies, identifies priorities, builds knowledge and facilitates learning.
    • It needs to remove Internal institutional hurdles, such as policy and bureaucratic delays, to meet its infrastructure targets.

What are the Recommendations of the Committee?

  • Overseas Centres: Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) should facilitate the opening of more AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homeopathy) centres overseas in a “strategic and planned manner”.
  • Yoga Certification Board: In the context of the government’s push to popularise yoga through initiatives such as the International Day of Yoga and setting up of other related facilities, the panel recommended that the ministries of AYUSH and external affairs should set up a ‘Yoga Certification Board for certifying Indian yogic practices and therapies’.
  • Diaspora Collaboration: The Indian diaspora, too, is a major asset of India’s soft power diplomacy. Collaboration with the Indian diaspora should also be encouraged to disseminate India’s soft power in regions where it is not yet widely known.
  • In the Field of Medicine: Concerted efforts to get recognition of Ayurveda as a system of medicine and adopt the pharmacopeia of India so that the products can be exported as medicine.
    • Ayurveda does not have a recognised pharmacopeia, which is why such products are being exported as dietary supplements and nutraceuticals. The products are still not recognised in most of the foreign countries.
  • Pricing System: On the issue of the differential pricing of tickets to monuments for foreigners and Indians, the panel suggested that the pricing system “may be revisited” since such a policy is unnecessary in a globalised world.
    • Such differential pricing leads to a loss of a large segment of foreign travellers.
  • Budgetary Allocation: The panel sought an enhanced annual budgetary allocation of ₹500 crore for the Indian Council For Cultural Relations (ICCR) for “conducting India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy in a robust and extensive manner”.
  • Coordination Committee: Establishment of a coordination committee consisting of representatives from the MEA and other ministries to overcome the lack of coordination among multiple institutions in projecting India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy.
  • A Policy Document: The MEA should also prepare a policy document on “India’s soft power projections, delineating India’s soft power toolbox and manner in which it is being projected abroad along a vision statement for the future”.

What can be the Way Forward?

  • In its capacity as the biggest democracy in the world, India's soft power should extend beyond simply sharing election best practices, to also countering executive overreach through a sophisticated framework of democratic institutions.
  • The other way to overcome a shortage of money and minds on the job is to examine how the private sector can be included to fill some of the gaps left by official agencies.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Years Question (PYQ)

Q. Terrorist activities and mutual distrust have clouded India-Pakistan relations. To what extent the use of soft power like sports and cultural exchange could help generate goodwill between the two countries. Discuss with suitable examples. (2015)

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