25 Jan, 2006    ·   1933

Ashok Sharma opines that 'Brand India' provides the necessary diplomatic leverage to secure India's political, economic and strategic interests

India, with 8 per cent of economic growth rate and a strong military infrastructure and nuclear weapons capability, is poised to become a key player in the emerging global order. But little attention is being paid to India's "soft power," which can help consolidate its geo-strategic position. "Soft power", as coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, encompasses the allure of its political system, the spiritual foundations on which the country has based its founding ideas and the robustness of its popular culture.

The foundation of India's soft power is its pluralism, non-violence, tolerance, spiritualism, secularism and Parliamentary democratic culture. The US and Western powers have used soft power as part of their diplomacy. China and Japan have also used this diplomacy for pursuing their interests in Southeast Asia. India can use its education system, cultural values, and film and music industry as elements of soft power.

India's soft power gains an edge through its educational and intellectual power. Western education is now under pressure. There is a 2.4 per cent decline in the number of foreign students in US. The threat of terrorism, anti-immigration policies and high cost of education is responsible for this trend. India can very well tap into this trend by providing low cost education to foreign students. By studying in India, these students would certainly develop a friendly attitude towards India when they return to their home country after receiving education here. Educational institutions of repute in India can attract foreigners for cheap and quality education.

India's electronics media is booming. Al Jazeera has set an example for news channels despite the presence of CNN and BBC in international news coverage in West Asia. AajTak, NDTV, Sahara News, Zee News and STAR News can project a positive image of India. Apart from IT, biotechnology clocks the fastest growth in India, spawning a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. Biotechnology is a knowledge industry.

India needs to coordinate its 25 million-strong diaspora scattered all across the globe, as it can represent 'Brand India', network for Indian initiatives and seed nodes for innovation. It can help India by turning the brain drain into brain gain, play the role of cultural ambassadors, can be investors in India, and become bridges between their newly adopted country and India. The role of Indian-Americans in changing the perceptions of Congressmen in the US through various pressure groups, and the India Caucus has been playing a positive and constructive role in recent years.

Healthcare costs are increasing and becoming unaffordable in the West and was an important issue in the 2004 US Presidential elections. America, being an ageing society, needs medical professionals and nurses, which India can provide at a cheap cost. India has a large number of patent drugs and pharmaceuticals, including Indian versions of the AIDS cocktail reportedly at 4 per cent of the costs of an equivalent Western drug. India has the potential to become the producer of cheap drugs and medicine.

Indian films and music are very popular in most Arab countries, South Asian and Southeast Asian, African and South American countries with their Indian population and is also making inroad into Western countries by organizing film festivals. After Hollywood, the Indian film and music industry has the potential to have its presence felt worldwide. India can use this cultural power as a diplomatic tool.

India needs to tap the economic and diplomatic viability of its ayurvedic sciences. Yoga is already a multi-billion dollar industry in the USA, with 18 million American practitioners, with revenues of $27 billion per year revenues (from classes, videos, books, conferences, retreats) and over 10,000 studios/teachers. Over 98 per cent of yoga teachers and students in USA are non-Indians. America's yoga centres are potential retail outlets for Indian culture and brand marketing. Ayurveda rakes in $2 billion a year and is part of the high growth international market for plant medicines. India need to utilize this potential the way the China has turned Chinese medicine into a multi-billion dollar industry, or the way French wine and cosmetic industries have endowed their products with a mystique that protects French jobs.

In ancient times, the Magadh Empire expanded primarily because of its military strength and its soft power. Its knowledge system, along with linguistics, metallurgy, philosophy, astronomy, arts, medicine was exported by Buddhist monks. Nalanda and Takshshila attracted foreign students from all over Asia and were appreciated by foreigners. Taking a lesson from its past, India must exploit its soft power for strategic advantage and focus on soft power diplomacy to project a positive image of 'Brand India'.