During his travels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a point of promoting India’s soft power – including Bollywood, Sufi music and yoga as well as shared heritage in art, architecture, cuisine and democratic values. It’s too early to assess if India’s efforts are having any substantive impact in meeting the nation’s foreign policy objectives, but for the first time a coherent effort is underway to raise India’s brand value abroad. This is likely to have significant implications for the conduct of Indian diplomacy and the broader role of India in global politics in the coming years.
Releasing its global ranking of soft power, the communications and public relatons consultancy Portland suggests “Modi’s India is definitely a soft power player to watch in the years ahead.” While India does not figure in a list of top 30 countries in terms of soft power, the new effort underlines Modi’s use of social media to engage, inform and encourage participation on both foreign- and domestic-policy fronts.
Previous Indian governments recognized the value of soft power to further India’s foreign policy goals, but the attempts were largely ad hoc. Under Modi, India is taking a strategic approach towards using its soft-power resources to enhance the nation’s image abroad, even as soft power’s role in global politics is under debate.
India’s soft power worked its magic before without much government support. This is most notable in the case of Bollywood – the world’s largest film industry in terms of the number of films produced. Indian movies and music are watched and enjoyed in large parts of the world from the Middle East and North Africa to Central Asia. Yet Bollywood trails behind Hollywood in terms of its global reach. Previous governments did create new structures such as a new Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in 2004 to tap into the growing influence of Indian expatriates and a public policy division within the Ministry of External Affairs in 2006 to enhance cultural exchanges in support of official diplomatic engagements. Yet so far there’s little evidence to suggest that India, for all its many soft-power advantages, has made a dent in global public opinion. According to 2013 Pew Global Attitudes survey, fewer than half, or 46 percent, Americans have a favorable impression of India. Compared to the British Council, Alliance Française and even the Confucius Institutes, the performance of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, with centers in about 35 countries and aimed at promoting Indian culture, has been lackadaisical. India has failed to build its brand value abroad.
Picture: Narendra Modi (PM visits Taimei Elementary School in Tokyo) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons