ISSN 2330-717X

India’s Soft Power: A Regional Necessity – OpEd


By Ali Bluwi

Writing about India made me nostalgic about a time I spent there. I studied in Pune in India and had the opportunity to visit various districts all over the country.

I recall that during the first few days I was looking for a short cut route to the airport to run away from a number of things. First, Indians move their head in a special way while uttering one word (aa jaiya). Second, spicy food with a lot of hot pepper was new to me. But I was specially annoyed by the advanced stage of administrative and financial corruption.

And yet, despite things I saw that made me contemplating leaving the country, soon I fell under the Indian spell. The beautiful and exotic natural landscape, the green spaces and the spread of education have made India a beautiful place to live in. Although India is a diverse country with different sects, faiths, nationalities, and ethnicities, still laymen – who might have less political awareness – do idolize national figures such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi. Additionally, Indians view their poet, Rabindranath Tagore, as the first to teach them a lesson in human relations and essence of the modern day concept of soft power.

Despite diversity that leads to more differences and fragmentation than cooperation, soon you discover that the magic of India constitutes the highest ideal for all Indians regardless of their ethnic or sectarian backgrounds.

They absolutely cannot be other than that. Therefore, despite the fact that Satan was planted among them, it does not have a place in their daily life. Their daily life is rarely marred with politics. For this reason, India derives its power not from the material, economic and military aspects but from the scope of tolerance that we hope will not disappear amid the peak of technical transformation.

A few days ago, I finished reading some books given to me as gift by former Indian Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad. Besides, I read a lot about the partisan and political experience in India. I also read the aspects of political, social and economic development of the country. I also studied how India liberated itself from 400 years of British colonization when it declared its independence in 1947.

Interestingly, after centuries of colonization, India set up the national economic planning center and the center of technical planning. Despite the significance of the two centers in the development of India, you would find Indians natural, modest, and down to earth. For instance you would find their offices’ furniture old but produce much more than luxurious offices.

I have strong relations with India and I still have plenty of friends in universities, in think tanks and in the ministry for foreign affairs. But I enjoyed very much the lectures given by Shashi Tharoor entitled “Why nations should pursue soft power.”

In this lecture, he put his finger on the real reason for the strength of India. It is true that India achieves an economic growth of 7 percent annually, has the fourth army in the world, sells some 15 million cell phones a month, has a president of the Congress party from Italian-Catholic origin (Sonia Gandhi), and has a Muslim vice president of the republic. Yet the real reason for its power has to do with its ability to maintain tolerance and the spirit of India.

India was known for tolerance, spices, camels and austerity. Shashi Tharoor said that India has developed not only through trade and politics but through its soft power. This takes place through its ability to share its culture with the rest of the world via food, music, technology, and Bollywood. He added that in years to come the most important thing will be not the size of the army or the state but rather the ability to influence the heart and minds of the world. The soft power of India is a necessity that countries of the region will sooner or later realize.

Against this background, I call to reinforce the Indian soft power at a historical time where prevailing values at the international politics has been on the decline. I also call to benefit from the cultural relations with the Arab and Muslim world as the historical partnership between Arabs/Muslims and Indians had lasted for 800 years. This historical partnership cannot put aside as it constitutes an aspect of the historical and cultural Indian character.

This historical blend is a very vital one. Karan Singh, the president of the India’s Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the Indian ambassador to the UNESCO said that it is very important for India – as an emerging power – to believe that it has more than high economic growth and information technology. As some great powers are going through civilization decline, it is important for India to focus on the human aspect as an effective component of power.

Therefore Gandhi was right when he said that nonviolence was the greatest force at people’s disposal. This is where the Indian wisdom meets the Islamic civilization that linked the material development of human beings with values and ethics. Nonviolence is a key principle in India’s foreign policy and is parallel to the strict principles practiced in Saudi Arabia that focus on the necessity of conforming to the Shariah principles in dealing with human beings. In brief, India is a nation that is open to others and suffered greatly from colonialism. If anything, these historical facts are reflected in the tolerant nature of Indians.

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