Image of India
India has a mixed legacy when it comes to soft power, it went through periods of heights, plateaus and lows. Through out history, there was not a single country which had greater soft power than ancient India. Great empires outside the subcontinent held it with awe and admiration. India had international trade links right from Indus valley civilization. India was self sufficient and it always had a favorable balance of payments. It’s spiritual philosophies, advances in mathematics, astronomy, surgery, herbal medicine had vastly influenced other civilizations.
Present situation is diametrically different from those glorious days but in recent years it has considerably improved. No other country produces such contrasting images in the minds of foreigners as India does. When primed by the word ‘India’ the images that people visualize include debilitating poverty(thanks to slum dog millionaire), colorful and cheerful people(courtesy Bollywood), spiritualism (mainly due to yoga and spiritual gurus) and a growing economy among others. These images are accompanied by varied emotions which determine the attitudes people hold towards India. It ranges from pity towards the poor who are the victims of colonialism and corruption. Disgust which accompanies the images of open defecation and disease. A militarily expanding and nuclear capable India produces fear especially among its smaller neighbors. Under developed countries of Africa and Asia admire India for pulling out hundreds of millions of people from poverty. UN and some developed countries admire and get inspired as India reinforces their belief in democracy which is responsible for its stability and prosperity. Some countries in our neighborhood envy India’s rise and are working to destabilize it.
This situation is because of historical events happening from hundreds of years, which transformed India in to a land of extreme diversity- economically, culturally and spiritually.
India does not have a single culture which can be claimed as the ‘Indian culture’. There are mind boggling number of cultures co-existing side by side in India which more than any thing reflects the power and diversity of human ingenuity. However there are some deep values and norms which all Indians hold dear, this is termed as the stamp of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. The most important of the shared values is ‘plurality’ and mutual respect for each other.
These shared values gave raise to the phenomenon of the unity in diversity observed in India. Hence if there is one thing which reflects Indianess, it is tolerance and receptivity towards other persons, other ideas and other cultures. This has been the saving grace of Indian democracy.
Soft power offers considerable advantages to nations who possess it. Especially in the 21st century, where information travels in real time and people make judgments and air their opinion for the whole world to see(a la twitter), countries need to be more careful about the image that they project. India needs to recognize that image is every thing in the digital world. ISIS could attract thousands of young people
around the world to rally to its cause which its parent organization Al-Qaeda failed to do, is due to the effective use of multi-media and social media by it.
The contrasting images other countries hold about India needs to be changed. India needs to build an image of a respectable & admirable country which has a lot to offer to the stability and prosperity of the world. We need to reduce corruption and poverty to reduce the feelings of anger, disgust and pity towards the country. We need to build world class infrastructure and invest in Science and technology to gain admiration. We need to work for a peaceful international environment which is based on international laws and resolve our conflicts with neighbors, this reduces feelings of envy and fear.