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Arya Chaturvedi: What is the potential of India's 'soft power'? How successful is India in projecting and using it to its advantage?

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  • Parama Sinha Palit replies: India’s potential, when it comes to its soft power, is phenomenal. Noted ancient Indian scholars like Kautilya and Kamandak have referred to ‘soft’ diplomacy, including practice of sandhi (peace)for achieving progress. In fact, the role of the doota (or ambassador) in conducting interstate relationship has been emphasised time and again by these scholars. Notwithstanding the historical familiarity with application of soft power, India’s accommodation of the latter in its strategic culture for furthering national interests is debatable.  Despite the existing debate, the contemporary international community is much in awe of India’s accommodation of the ‘other’, its plurality, multiculturalism and secularism. The problem begins when the state starts pushing its soft power. The thrust on highlighting the virtues of a civilisational state in articulating soft power can be a somewhat risky approach to adopt given that aggressive emphasis on culture and civilisation might give birth to fears of cultural colonisation among the recipients, particularly in the neighbourhood.

    During the course of my research, I discovered that India’s soft power capital was much more regarded and appreciated in the Western world vis-à-vis in its neighbourhood. Another interesting aspect is that despite China’s deliberate policy to recast itself in a positive light, India’s hands-off approach, practised till recently, has been much more globally attractive. However, benign ‘non-aggressive’ impressions co-exist with negative impressions about the ability of the Indian state to effectively govern and deliver a decent quality of life to its people. On the other hand, India is also largely perceived as ‘hands off’ and passive in several regional and global spheres. Given such impressions, a dynamic foreign policy is expected to face continuing challenges, as does India’s efforts to accommodate an equally pronounced role of soft power in its policy.

    Dr. Parama Sinha Palit was a researcher at IDSA. Currently based in Singapore, she is the author of Analysing China's Soft Power Strategy and Comparative Indian Initiatives and India and China: National Image-Building in Southeast Asia.

    Posted on September 28, 2018