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Sansad TV: Perspective- India’s Soft Power




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. The Committee on External Affairs has recently presented its Sixteenth Report on the prospects and limitations of India’s Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy. The committee has recommended that a policy document should be prepared on India’s soft power projections along with a Soft Power Matrix for evaluating soft power outcomes. In its report the parliamentary committee also highlighted the need for greater synergy among MEA and other Ministries, Departments and agencies involved in India’s soft power projections and cultural diplomacy.

  • The term soft power was coined byJoseph Nye and captured the important and (at the time) poorly studied phenomenon in international affairs of “getting others to want the outcomes that you want,” predicated on the attractiveness of one’s culture, political values and foreign policy.
  • Though slower to yield results, soft power is a less expensive means than military force or economic inducements to get others to do what we want.
  • This is the first time India has broken into the top 30, in the Brand Finance Global Soft-Power Index 2020, which  highlighted that India punches well below its weight.


  • India, over the past decade has begun to play its soft power cards more systematically.
  • It has set up, a public diplomacy division within the Ministry of External Affairs in 2006 and is expanding the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) worldwide.
  • It has roped in the Ministry of Tourism, which is behind the “Incredible India” campaign, and the external affairs division “to showcase its social, political, and cultural assets abroad.

India’s Performance

  • India’s spiritualism, yoga, movies and television, classical and popular dance and music, its principles of non-violence, democratic institutions, plural society, and cuisine have all attracted people across the world.
    • International Day of Yoga reflects yoga’s immense popularity worldwide, underscoring its richness as a soft power resource
  • India’s soft power is being leveraged alongside larger foreign policy initiatives such as the Look East Policy (now Act East).
    • It aimed at increasing, people to people contact through the Buddhist roots in India. The conference aimed to facilitate cross pollination of ideas and foster harmony at the global level.
  • India’s soft power diplomacy, particularly in Afghanistan involves winning “hearts and minds” and strengthening its cultural as well as political relations with Afghanistan, backed with the ideas of nation building and political stability.
    • India has constructed the Parliament building, Salma(Friendship) dam and a hospital in Afghanistan.
    • India is currently building and upgrading the Habibia High School, a project that is worth more than 1 million USD.
  • India’s track record of democracy, liberty and culture are main reason why nations like USA, France and Sweden have given advanced military equipment to India.
  • India is also expanding its development assistance to African countries beyond its traditional relationships within the Commonwealth in an effort to secure access to natural resources as well as serve its broader strategic aims.
  • Diaspora Diplomacy on the rise, who increase India’s soft power abroad. India has been celebrating Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (since 2015). Initiatives like Know India Program, have garnered lot of response, helping Indians connect to their ancestral roots in India and knowing about the contemporary India.
  • Humanitarian Assistance: India’s foreign aid activities have now also extended to humanitarian assistance, such as when its Navy participated in an ad hoc coalition with the United States, Japan, Australia, and Singapore to disburse blankets and tents in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.


  • Poor cultural diffusion: Second, India rates badly on any measure of state-driven cultural diffusion rather than the more organic and natural private sector and citizen-led efforts.
    • Though most Indian cultural diffusion to overseas audiences—from yoga to Bollywood—has occurred.
    • The Indian government has is also promoting the study of Hindi abroad in large part because of its linguistic diversity at home.
  • Poor tourism story: India has a high number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, but still fares poorly on tourism and education on a per capita basis.
  • Lack of infrastructure for cultural development: India was plagued by impoverishment, missing out on positive associations, coupled with lack of investment in cultural diplomacy and a reputation of deep-rooted corruption.
  • Brain drain: There are Indian contributions that are not necessarily associated with the country. For example, many NASA scientists and engineers are of Indian-origin with rich ancestral roots.

Is Soft Power Enough?

  • India is still having difficulties in changing its neighbors’ behaviors by using soft power. For instance countries like Nepal and Maldives have used the China card against India. They still view India as a Big Brother or the proverbial “298 pound gorilla”.
  • The soft power has not helped India deal with terrorism and radicalism. Along with soft power, hard power is equally important. In the 21st century it is the smart power (Hard and Soft power combined) along with speed and agility to adapt, that are the necessary tools for diplomacy.
  • Despite India’s growing soft power many countries are not supporting India’s permanent membership in UNSC.
  • It has not helped India in WTO negotiations and not fetched FTA with EU or RCEP to it’s requirements.
  • Soft power cannot used as and when required and it takes very long time to become significant. Whereas hard power can be used instantaneously and the results are also immediately seen.
  • Soft Power has not stopped China opposing India’s membership to NSG.


  • Without soft power, hard power lacks its intellectual and cultural edge. While soft power provides the ideas and motivation, hard power gives the tools and weapons for the soft power to expand.
  • A good balance of both makes a nation stronger militarily, economically and culturally. India must continue to expand it’s soft power investments while building hard power capabilities. This augurs well with the neighborhood reality where it faces two hostile nuclear powers.