The growing clout of India’s Soft Power

Coined just 27 years ago by Prof. Joseph Nye, the term ‘Soft Power’ is becoming more common these days. From global soft power rankings of countries to Shashi Tharoor’s frequent recommendations to Indian government, the soft power is touted as the new tool enabling countries to influence the major phenomenons at global scale. Countries are realizing that an over-reliance on military muscle and economic strength-the traditional hard-power- can no longer give them the desired influence.

In the increasingly complex and inter-dependent world, neither problems nor their solutions sit limited at the national borders. The power is diffused, from one end of the world to another , from government to non-state actors, from culture to educational institutions to technological innovation, from citizen engagement to enterprise. India, today, is yet to overtake the major players of world who had established their soft power in the preceding decades, in the post WW-II era. Nevertheless, she is expanding herself over the borders, resurgent to reach the high global influence she enjoyed few centuries ago. But this time, the tools are new.


The number of foreign tourists arrivals in India per year, though unimpressive compared to big players like France, U.S., Spain and China, continues to grow on average 10% y-o-y. The big change is however happening in Indian culture being discovered, explored and liked by previously ill-informed chunks of people living in different geographies and cultures.


The 3rd International Day of Yoga, adopted by all 193 UN nationals, shall be celebrated all over the world on June 21, 2017. Baahubali 2 and Dangal have redefined the benchmarks for Indian Cinema, to look not only pan-India, but also showing that good Indian content can engage international movie-going audiences better than copy-pieces of Western products. That’s what made Baahubali 2, the latest Indian epic, the highest grossing Indian film at Rs.1250 crore($190M) (still running) at a relatively humble budget of Rs. 250 crore($39M), overtaking the Emma Watson & Tom Hanks starrer The Circle at U.S. Box Office. Dangal,the Indian wrestling biopic drama, also pipped the Hollywood’s action-rich piece, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2., to become the No.1 foreign film at China’s box office this week. Unique Indian Content needs a great presentation to capture the international audiences and that’s where we are heading now in arts, music and entertainment industry.

Again, there was Indian cuisine before as well, in different corners of the world. However, what true Indian food is, how is it best cooked, and how it is best savored, global foodies are getting educated on that now. Same thing is happening for Indian festivals, like Holi and Diwali. The cheaper international travel and digital connectivity has brought down barriers in spreading different cultures, in bringing correction to myths and stereotypes. Bollywood is increasingly being known more than just a dance style and Yoga more than a just a physical work-out routine.

Technology + Economy.

India has highest number of poor in the world, hundreds of millions. Also, millions are coming out of poverty every year. In the fast-paced world of technology, New India has become synonymous to dynamism. Ranked as fastest growing major economy since 2014 and home to several of the world’s most dynamic cities, the global perception of India is changing, and for good.

The less-informed chunk of population in different cultures are increasingly moving out of the pit where the name ‘India’ only triggered images of slums from Slumdog Millionaire, images of crowded trains and deprived rural areas from biased international media like Britain’s the BBC. The terms like software-engineers, chicken-tikka, tandoori naan, startups, fast-growing economy, affordable space agency ISRO, unique country to backpack, tech support and outsourcing, affordable, colorful culture, largest democracy have become more commonly associated with the name India in the perception of the global citizens around the world.

The second startup-wave in India has put India on high-table of start-up world. In 2016, India became the third largest hub of tech-startups, among top-five in number of total startups, third largest in incubators and accelerators and is fast growing to overtake all others except US in next few years. More important than numbers is the trend that more Indian entrepreneurs are going for disruption. Instead of copying American startup models, they are solving problems unique to India and undeveloped world, for the next six-billion. Out of Start-up world, ISRO has made India’s name proud by achieving milestones, one-after another, which are being extensively covered by international media along with the name India.

The Modi Effect and 3Ds.

Unarguably, new Prime Minister Modi has been instrumental in pushing up the image of New India around the world. Making news for engaging Indian diaspora around the world on an unprecedented large scale to showcasing Indian culture with full extravagance in the countries he visited, Modi is what he calls himself, a Nationalist. He’s also the most digital Prime Minister we have had in India. He’s the second most followed world leader, after only Barack Obama, on most popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Being the champion of India’s soft power around the world, he best uses the 3Ds-Diaspora, Demographics and Digital to his cause, the engagement of Indian population with the government and projecting India’s soft power to the world.

With 400 million and fast-growing Indian internet users, they are a community that is increasing the share of Indian perspective in the digital world, where half the world’s population is active and spend increasingly more time & attention today. New YouTube reaction channels sprouting every day, where YouTubers from different cultures show their reactions and thoughts on Indian content for the burgeoning Indian audience in digital world is a growing trend. Quora is another example.

Just like digital netizens, the Diaspora is key to the presence of Indian-ness around the world. They are the global messengers of India and portray what an Indian is like and in most places, they are doing a great job. One example is Indian-Americans being the most successful migrant community in the United States. As the world gets more connected through travel, trade and technology, India is looking forward to become a major player in soft power.

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