Context: There is much significance to India having hosted a two-day global Buddhist summit in New Delhi (April 20-21), which was organised by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the International Buddhist Confederation. The summit saw the participation of key figures from the global Buddhist community, including the Dalai Lama. The summit was a significant opportunity for India to project and connect with the Buddhist population around the world, thereby strengthening the country’s soft power.
Use of Buddhism as a soft power tool:
With its strong historical and cultural ties to Buddhism, India is well-positioned to play a leading role in shaping the discourse around Buddhist issues on the global stage.
- The Indian government has been actively investing in its Buddhist diplomacy efforts, with a focus on promoting tourism through the development of the “Buddhist tourist circuit”. Additionally, India under PM Modi has made it a point to visit Buddhist sites during his Southeast and East Asian visits. By hosting such a high-profile event, the Indian government hopes to demonstrate its commitment to preserving and promoting Buddhist culture and heritage, as well as strengthening ties with the global Buddhist community
- Further India’s efforts to position itself as a great power is committed to cooperation rather than coercion and are rooted in its deep historical and cultural ties to the region. The current government’s guiding principles for foreign policy, Panchamrit principles include “Sanskriti Evam Sabhyata” which means cultural and civilizational links, which were highlighted during the Delhi summit
- India hopes to reinforce its image as a responsible global power committed to peaceful cooperation and regional stability. By laying an emphasis on cultural and civilisational ties, India seeks to promote greater understanding and cooperation between nations and to demonstrate the unique role it can play in shaping the region’s future.
What can be done further?
- India needs to utilise the reach of Bollywood in promoting its Buddhist heritage. China, with its influence over Hollywood, has completely dominated the narrative around Buddhism through cinema. In contrast, India is behind in this domain; there have not been any efforts made through cinema.
- India’s G-20 presidency this year could be used to promote Buddhist diplomacy on a bigger scale through various cultural meetings, especially as Buddhist teachings align with the motto of India’s G-20 presidency, ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’
As Buddha was the first diplomat of peace, his teachings of peace and cooperation in these tough times can become the guiding light of Indian diplomacy on the world stage.
DEFINITION: The American political theorist Joseph Nye, who coined the term Soft power, defines it as ‘the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than
coercion.’ Indian External Affairs ministry has also defined the term soft power as ability to influence others through appeal and attraction, using non-coercive means.
India has been exercising a range of soft power resources which have widespread global appeal. These include Indian arts, dances and literature, cuisine, yoga and traditional holistic medicine, Indian cinema and entertainment and sports, historical monuments, India’s democracy, its Constitution, its unity in diversity and its composite cultural ethos, traditional values, unique approaches to contemporary issues such as climate change and environmental preservation, scientific and technological accomplishments and socio economic innovation.
METHODS UNDERTAKEN BY INDIA
- Role of Culture: India has a rich culture and cultural diplomacy is its expression abroad to foreign audiences in order to facilitate/create long term international influence.
- Role of Diaspora: India has a large Diaspora in the world with over 31 million including over 13 million NRIs and 18 million PIOs spread across the globe. The presence of an extensive and vibrant Indian Diaspora abroad with their growing political and economic profile has emerged as a unique soft power asset of the country.
- The Indian Diaspora has emerged as a major partner in promotion of cultural diplomacy in their respective countries. Enumerating the steps taken to engage the extensive network of Indian Diaspora in furthering India’s foreign policy and long term interests, various programmes and has taken several steps from time to time to engage with Indian Diaspora for example Know India Programme, Pravasi Teerth Darshan Yojana, Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children, Bharat Ko Janiye Quiz, Promotion of Cultural Ties with Diaspora, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas among others.
- Role of Tourism: The Committee are aware that tourism is a key indicator of a country’s soft power capital. Religious tourism and medical tourism have emerged as areas with immense tourism potential. As an ancient civilization and a land of many religions, India has been cashing on this potential.
- Efforts that are being taken: India’s Buddhist Circuit/ Pilgrimage and attract foreign tourist to Buddhist sites in India, the International Buddhist Conclave (IBC) is being organized regularly by the Government. To promote tourism, various efforts have also been made viz, launching of the ‘Incredible India’ campaign Under the Champion Sector Scheme, Marketing & Promotion for Buddhist circuits in overseas markets shall be taken up are some of the schemes that are being undertaken.
- Role of Parliamentary Democracy: India’s vibrant parliamentary democracy, multi-party-political system and orderly change of Government through regular peaceful elections have significantly enhanced India’s standing and profile globally. India is held in great esteem worldwide as the world’s largest democracy.
- Role of Yoga: Yoga is the ancient Indian practice of physical and mental well-being. The Committee are pleased to note that The United Nations General Assembly declared 21st June as the International Day of Yoga (IDY). The Ministry of AYUSH is the nodal Ministry for International Day of Yoga celebrations and has been celebrating IDY since last five years at national as well as at international level.
- ICCR has established the Indo-Turkmenistan Centre for Yoga and Traditional Medicine in Ashgabat and the India- China Yoga College at Yunnan Minzu University, China.
- Role of Media and Cinema: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through Prasar Bharati, External Services Division of All India Radio, Film Facilitation Office, etc have been playing a prominent role in the projection of India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy. Hindi film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, has emerged as one of the most notable examples of global entertainment emanating from outside the Western world. The Committee are of the strong view that added emphasis needs to be given to the global imprint of our Cinema as an instrument of soft power while taking effective steps to celebrate and popularize our movies abroad, including regional cinema.
The Ministry of External Affairs has highlighted four key factors inhibiting effective conduct of India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy
- Inadequate budgetary allocation: Non-availability of adequate finances is one of the factors derailing the effective facilitation of India’s soft power projection. Soft power capabilities require capital, both human as well as financial to be effective. A cursory glance at the budgetary allocation to India’s ICCR and Confucius Institutes of China or UKS’s British Council or Germany’s Goethe Institute is testimony to the hurdles in our institutional efficacy
- Lack of coordination among multiple institution: There is a need for greater coordination and consultation among multiple institutions, both in the government and private sector, engaged in conduct of cultural and soft power projection. Currently, there is duplication of efforts and resources due to overlapping mandates of several ministries and agencies.
- Shortage of skilled manpower: Shortage of skilled, motivated manpower in the Headquarters as well as in Indian Missions/Posts abroad who have the requisite enthusiasm and interest in cultural work.
- Lack of clarity about the mandate of ICCR: While ICCR was established some 71 years ago, global situation has witnessed several drastic changes thereafter. Hence, an institutional device conceived some seven decades back needs a relook in the context of its organizational set functionality and efficacy. The Committee recommend that the Ministry should appoint a Study Group firstly to assess the working of ICCR in comparison to British Council, the American Centre and the Confucius Institute etc and later suggest ways to further strengthen ICCR
- The Committee, therefore, recommend that MEA should conduct a thorough assessment of our soft power potential and devise strategies for optimum utilization of the same in achieving India’s foreign policy objectives on priority basis and apprise the Committee accordingly.
- The Committee recommend that the MEA should capitalize in multilateral diplomacy channels and abundantly incorporate Track 2 and Track 3 diplomacy in India’s foreign policy strategies.
- The Committee therefore recommend that the Ministry should take urgent steps firstly to evolve and later adopt National Policy on Cultural Relationship Development across the countries or National Soft Power Policy.
- The Committee, therefore, recommend that the Government should increase ICCR’s budgetary allocation by at least 20% than what is being provisioned as of now.
- In view of the urgent need for greater synergy and coordination among the various Ministries/ Departments /agencies involved in India’s soft power and cultural diplomacy, the Committee recommend that the Coordination Committee may be constituted at the earliest.
The Committee, feels that a study could establish the linkages between our soft power and tangible outcomes in the field of diplomacy and hence they fail to comprehend the glaring delay in developing India’s Soft Power Matrix and thus recommends Ministry should have objective metrics for evaluating soft power outcomes through a ‘Soft Power Matrix’ at the earliest.