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Reviewing the Rise of India as a Global Soft Power

by Sarah Arora

India is witnessing phenomenal economic growth while its political aspirations are on a greater level. The administration is attempting to extend its global influence by utilising soft power resources and instruments. Using its rich culture and returning to its traditions, India is rediscovering this art. References to religious pluralism and democratisation are an additional effective governmental weapon. This article seeks to comprehend the magnitude of India’s cultural involvement and assess its efforts to present its culture to the world as fascinating.


Joseph Nye popularised the term ‘soft power’ in his 1990 book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”.. In this book, he noted, “when a government convinces other countries to want what it wants, this may be referred to as coercive or soft power, as opposed to hard or command power, which consists of forcing others to do what it desires.” Soft power refers to a country’s ability to achieve its foreign policy goals and priorities using non-coercive ways. Hard power is the capacity to influence the actions of others by compulsion or incentive, whereas soft power focuses more on the capacity to influence the desires of others through attraction. For the sake of this article, we will concentrate on India’s soft powers and its worldwide interaction. India is an enlightened nation with a long legacy of soft power. The concept of soft power is innovative and fundamentally natural, in keeping with India’s rich history as a land of ideas and thinking as well as a facilitator of cultural exchange. Moreover, soft power conveyed a sense of an upright, hovering sphere and dependability, which inspired developing nations around the world once they observed India’s position. In recent years, there has also been a reorientation of foreign policy, with a renewed emphasis on aiding the state’s economic development by pursuing and maintaining strong relations with foreign nations. As a result, the significance of soft power instruments has increased, particularly in terms of culture and values, which, when paired with pacific policies, created a true opportunity to employ soft power. This article recognises that soft power is a wide concept with different interpretations and that India’s soft power resources are too numerous to fit under one umbrella. However, in order to limit its breadth, this article will only focus on key areas of opportunity within the Indian context.

India as a pluralistic nation 

India has a positive image of a pluralistic, non-violent, liberal government with a non-threatening global leadership. Throughout the centuries, India has provided religious and cultural freedom to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and members of various other faiths. India’s history and culture are her bequests to the world, which illustrate the evolution of India’s chronicles, demonstrating how India happily accepted many religions but never lost sight of its own culture and history. India’s worldwide image is rooted in the concept of ‘unity in diversity,’ which is reflective of the vast variety of cultures and civilisations that continue to attract many people from around the globe, and the soft power roots run deep. India’s soft power, which is rooted in her enormous social and civilisational past spanning millennia, displays her goals of secularism, liberalism, and cultural inclusivity, which are more crucial in today’s turbulent society. A concrete experience of south-south collaboration and enduring solidarity with poor nations is an additional component of India’s soft power in a number of global sectors. Gandhian principles of nonviolence, Nehru’s Five Postulates of Panchsheel (Peaceful Coexistence), and the internationally sponsored Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during the cold war made India a crucial actor in worldwide associations.

India proclaiming its identity

The Modi government has created novel trends in Indian diplomacy by incorporating contemporary soft power aspects. Today, the state utilises India’s soft power assets, such as the diaspora, Yoga, Buddhism, and economic assistance, to achieve diplomatic victories and advance the country’s national goals. Some may argue that it is too soon to determine whether India’s initiatives are having a significant impact on the nation’s foreign policy goals. However, for the first time, a concerted effort is being made to increase India’s brand value abroad. In the future years, this will undoubtedly have substantial results for the conduct of Indian diplomacy and India’s broader position in global affairs. Elements of Indian popular culture, such as music and films, have also garnered a large number of followers in other nations. Indian music and cinema have a presence in international profit earning and have gained popularity outside, particularly in Asia, Europe, and Africa. The growth of soft power is also facilitated by literature. Multiple Indian authors, such as Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Aravind Adiga, have been awarded the Man Booker International Prize. The 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul. Such instances embark on the presence of India around the world as a global narrative.

The Short fall

Despite the fact that India is rich in soft power resources, it lacks an institutional framework to harness soft power and advance its foreign objectives. Moreover, India has performed poorly in terms of components of national appeal due to severe challenges such as corruption, poverty, violence against women, antagonism to commerce, urban pollution, caste prejudice, and gender inequality.

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Figure 1: India’s soft power rating in various categories in comparison with scores of the USA and China 


The challenge for the soft power capabilities of India is its complex social system. This is especially true with broad media coverage of rape and violence against women, the conservatism and patriarchy of Indian society, and the practice of arranged marriages. Moreover, religiously motivated pogroms and riots are a significant blemish on the national image of a peaceful and accommodative civilisation. Human rights violations by state authorities also add to this poor image of India, which hinders its soft power. However, the electoral manifesto of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian People’s Party), which has been in power in India since the 2014 elections, demonstrates that members of India’s ruling elite recognise the necessity of employing soft power. This manifesto highlighted the significance of soft power in international relations. In addition, it proclaimed the adoption of a more active form of diplomacy, emphasising the spiritual, cultural, and philosophical components of diplomacy. To conclude, in my opinion, if India wants to restore its national image, it must identify its strengths. Ancient wisdom and spirituality should convince other nations that India can play a key leadership role in the international community.

About the Author:

Sarah Arora is an antepenultimate year law-student pursuing B.B.A LL.B Hons. from Jindal Global Law School. She loves to write poems and articles on issues that arouse her curiosity and inspires her to be better than yesterday. Her poems and writing pieces are also published in Teen-Anthologies available on Amazon and various other blogs respectively. She always believes in the saying that one should never be afraid to fail as failure is a paramount in order to appreciate where you came from. 

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