Indian Soft Power: Modi strategy and home truths

There is a lot of hype regarding Prime Minister Modi’s innovative and constructive approach to India’s foreign policy. Some have gone so far as to say Indian foreign policy has undergone a revolution under the Modi administration. While it is contentious whether there are more elements of change or continuity, a change is certainly being implemented with regard to India’s soft power that is being methodically and strategically deployed like never before.

Joseph Nye originally coined the term “soft power” in the late 1980s, which he describes as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion, resulting in a more favourable public opinion and credibility abroad”. It has been emphasized by author Shashi Tharoor, also a former junior minister of external affairs, who states that “the associations and attitudes conjured up in the global imagination by the mere mention of a country’s name is often a more accurate gauge of its soft power than a dispassionate analysis of its foreign policies”. The events of the previous decade have espoused the limitations of the use of force, leading to a subsequent resurgence in the importance of soft power as a foreign policy tool.

The concept of soft power is not new to India. India’s Non-alignment Movement (NAM) developed in the explicit historical situation of India’s independence struggle and was an embodiment of the values and ideals, such as the Gandhian nonviolent legacy, that influenced it. Independent India’s elites attempted to pursue a leadership role for India based on its ideological soft power and diplomacy. Indeed, India’s first Prime Minister Nehru was a proponent of soft power and carved an international role for India based on its moral standing and its support of the developing world, thus attempting to play a normative role in international relations.

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