Interaction with Prof. Daya Thussu on Leveraging India’s Soft Power
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‘Soft Power’, a term coined by Joseph Nye in the late 1980s, has been gaining increasing salience in foreign policy debates the world over. While in India, the use of soft power as part of Indian diplomacy had begun even before the term was coined, efforts to leverage various strands of India’s soft power in a sustained manner started gathering momentum with the coming of second NDA-led government to power in 2014. Observance of the United Nations sponsored ‘International Yoga Day’ was an evidence of that endeavour, Prime Minister Modi being its leading flag bearer.

A seminal effort in promoting the sublimity of soft power was undertaken earlier by the VIF in 2015 when it organised the first-ever Global Hindu-Buddhist Conclave on ‘Conflict Avoidance and Environment Consciousness’. That conclave had been attended by India’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, former Sri Lankan President Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga Bhandaranaike, besides many other religious heads and monks from several countries.

In following up with the initiative and in seeking to analyse the potentials of India’s soft power, particularly in relation to her foreign policy objectives, a talk from a well-known media and communication strategist, Prof. Daya Kishan Thussu, was organised at the Foundation on 19 Aug 2016. As the Professor of International Communication and Co-Director of the India Media Centre, University of Westminster, London, Prof. Daya Thussu has conducted an in-depth study on India’s soft power and has followed it up with the publication of a book titled, ‘Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood’.

During his talk, the Professor presented a panoramic overview of India’s soft power, ranging from the strengths of her cultures to cuisines, Bollywood to Yoga, dance and music, and finally to the presence of millions of admired Indian diasporas that are spread all over the world. He underlined that India’s rich and syncretic culture have the potentials to be a beacon of inspiration for other countries. Indeed, from Buddha to Mother Teresa, India has a produced many of the World’s most influential leaders and thinkers whose writings and teachings have influenced the lives of billions of people across the world, the Professor elaborated.

Curiously, while Buddha literally belonged to India (metaphorically, he belonged to the entire humanity), China, in her innate propensity, has been assiduously invoking ‘brand Buddhism’ to shore up her soft power - even as she refuses to relent from her muscle-flexing to exert military and cultural hegemony over Asia. Beijing, in fact, leaves no stones unturned to extend the reach of China’s soft power across the world. Highlighting the contrast with Indian measures, the Professor pointed to the fact that Beijing spends huge sums of money to extend China’s global presence through its state television CCTV as well as promotion of Mandarin language even if it is among the least known languages outside China - all this in an effort to break the Anglo-American monopoly and showcase the rise of China.

India, by contrast, has made little effort to reach out to the global audience in putting forth its relevance in national and inter-national discourses. The lack of Indian media’s global outreach was most glaring when it failed to contain the negative fallouts of the of Nirbhaya mishap, Dr. Thussu pointed out. On the other hand, India’s creation of a billion-member ‘Aadhar’ biometric database in a remarkably short period and her ‘Mars Mission’ - the cheapest of such explorations ever undertaken by any country – which are among many of India’s most notable achievements in recent years, remain but little known to the outside world, largely due to the absence of her global media outreach.

Among other highlights of Dr. Thussu’s presentation was a focus on the uniqueness of the Indo-Islamic cultural traditions. Islam, which has emerged perhaps as the hottest international talking point today, came to India as early as the 7th century AD. Since then, in the melting pot of various cultures and religions, India internalised Islam to produce its softer and more tolerant version, including ‘Sufism’. Thus, as compared to the hardcore jihadist version adopted in most of the Arab-West Asia-Pakistan axis, and exported by them to the detriment of the rest of the world, the Indian practice of Islam jells perfectly with her pluralistic traditions. This fact needs to be globally propagated as a counter to the jihadist ideologies being fanned by fanatics in the name of Islam, he suggested.

In similar vein, Prof. Thussu’s presentation also touched upon Bollywood movies, increasingly popular as these are in a number of strategically important countries, including China, Russia, Afghanistan and Egypt. Indian IT professionals, who are key contributors in global giants like the Goggle and the Microsoft, just to name a few, as well as the vast accessibility of the ever-growing number of Indians to open internet, are among the the components of soft power which should be leveraged strategically to further India’s interests in the international arena, as concluded the Professor in his interesting interaction.

Prof Thussu’s presentation and his elaborations were much appreciated among the audience.

Event Date 
August 19, 2016
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