Rising India: Is Soft-Power key to the sub-continents growing role?

/ Thursday, April 24 /

While Western eyes are naturally now on Pakistan and its current difficulties, this should not lead us to ignore its larger neighbour India and the giant leaps which it has made as a nation over the past few years. Apart from being included in the near ubiquitousacronym “BRIC” devised by Goldman Sachs, India has started flexing its muscle all over the world: scrambling for African commodities and oil; demanding a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council; and promising a space mission to moon soon. These diverse strands all can easily be knitted into a single message: a strong democratic India has assumed her rightful place in a globalised world. The impact of globalisation is echoed in every village in India and easily explains IT hubs like Bangalore and Hyderabad. India has lifted millions over the poverty line into a burgeoning middle-class; they want everything to be the same as the West, includinglabels like Abercrombie & Fitch. The West has always romanticised India but now it can put itself on display in numerous shopping mallsopening all over the subcontinent– this with the glowing consent of a 300 million strong and growing middle class.

However, what does India have to offer in return to the world? Surely, this cannot be limited to IT engineers making their annual pilgrimage to Silicon Valley or diligent employees in backroom offices number-crunching for multi-nationals. Even the members of the growing Indian Diaspora spread unevenly all over the world are hoping for something to raise their heads in pride. The answer lies in India’s growing soft power and entrepreneurial spirit. These, its citizens hope, will lead to a boom far outstrippingthe achievements brought about by the “Hindu Growth rate” mantra, which, ever since the 60s, has been fixatedly applied to the Indian economy. Harvard’s Joseph Nye is the intellectual godfather ofsoft power – a term used to describe the relative attractiveness of intangibles like culture and language. He argues that soft power will become ever more important in this new multi-polar world. Nation states, in particular India, must realise that belligerent acts born out of America’ s current “hawkish” foreign policy will only enjoy ephemeral acceptance with the American people – a fact confirmed by the very low national approval ratings of the White House current incumbent. US hegemony has only been undermined by such Neo-Con policies. India must chart its own destiny and use soft power to spread its wonderful culture. Quite rightly, Chicken tikka and not sabrerattling language is the message coming out of North Block in New Delhi. A good historical lesson comes from France. Ever since its crushing defeat against Prussia in 1870, this nation has striven to export its vibrant culture and language to the far corners of the world. No doubt, this has greatly enhanced France’s relative position in the francophone world and garnered admiration for the glorious French ideals of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité which are still alive and well after all these years. India has not tried to imitate France directly, but through other channels it has attempted to do something similar.

Former United Nations Under-Secretary General, Shashi Tharoor, candidly points out to Afghanistan as a thankful recipient of Indian soft power. India has no troops deployed in the country; at best she has
been a bystander in the “War on Terror.” But what is happening in its backyard must please India a lot: Bollywood and Indian soap operas are achieving what the Soviets and now the US backed coalition have been unable to do – make Afghans part with their guns and sit in front of the television. Indian soap operas, in particular the ones where an evil Motherin-law terrorises the whole family, are a big hit and when broadcast in the evenings, dubbed into Pashto and Dari, Kabul streets come to a standstill. Such examples of India’s growing soft power are rarelymentioned, but its growing significance and “soft” effects on the ‘War on Terror’” have won India many plaudits in Washington
and London.

Another recent development in the Indian automotive sector has put a smile on millions of faces while sending shock waves throughout corporate boardrooms all over the world. Tata’s “NANO” may not make millions like its well-fed Apple cousin, but as Tata’s “Peoples car” it may actually end up changing
the lives of millions. Priced at only £1250 pounds before tax, the Nano will become the cheapest car in the world.

Indigenously designed over five years by Indians, it has given a dramatic warning that India understands the needs of the masses better than most. This car meets all environmental emission standards and most safety standards. Tata plans to export it to other developing countries in South America and East Asia in the next three years. This will enable Rising India, millions of families to buy a car as their counterparts in the West have done for more than a half century. Tata’s profits may not in the end be so great but demand will be brisk. The effect of this venture are likely to be two-fold for India

– first, it should empower the masses with mobility;
second, it will unleash the unlimited e n t r e p r e n e u r i a l potential in India like never before. (Tata has already collected over 200 patents for this one project.) No wonder, Indians and Tata are excited. What was once labelled a cul-de-sac might just prove a viable vehicle venture.

Wow, even I am excited! With a student bank balance, £1250 could only buy me an add-on stereo system in a Lexus, but now I can aspire to my first car well before my first cheque arrives. India’s contribution to development in the end will be judged by its soft power and delicious chicken tikkas; I can just hear the world’s stomach rumbling.

This article was first published in the Netherhall Newsletter, March 2008.
Copyright © Gaurav Monga