Cultural exchange rate: role of India’s soft power in binding SAARC nations

Masood, Asma

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While Delhi has faced hard power limitations among the SAARC nations’ relationships, India can rely on its soft power capacities to tackle divisive issues. This prospect can be analysed from four angles: state-to-state soft power; state-to-people soft power; people-to-people soft power; and people-to-state soft power. While these dimensions rest on ancient cultural foundations, one may question how these Indian soft power elements can be used on a multilateral scale. Firstly, India’s state-to-state soft power sets an example to the region, given the diplomatic goodwill generated by India accepting the UN Tribunal decision to favour Dhaka in the maritime boundary dispute case. Secondly, state-to-people soft power is demonstrated by India’s training assistance to South Asian neighbours in educational or professional domains. This, however, need not be a one-sided affair with only India being a source of training. There are opportunities for all SAARC nations to learn from each other, for instance from Bhutan’s environmental track record and Bangladesh’s micro-finance network. Thirdly, people - to- state soft power is strongly manifested in the South Asian region. This is seen when ethnic minorities shape foreign policy in other countries. By influencing regional policies on issues such as the Millennium Development Goals, NGOs can also play a crucial role in delivering soft power. And finally, while the other soft power angles require considerable efforts, encouraging signs are being observed on the people-to-people front. Commonalities in culture are a major starting point, albeit one that has begun aeons ago. What stands apart in this era is the opportunity presented by science and technology, including the internet. India can foster aerospace engineering as a profession in the region in order to make SAARC nations self-reliant on space technology. Besides, social media platforms offer limitless possibilities in discovering and reinforcing existing socio-cultural threads. This is possible thanks to English being the lingua franca for urban classes in all SAARC nations, which benefit from the legacy of British colonialism. While the former coloniser drew boundaries that today spark South Asian disputes, it is heartening to see soft power making some headway in polishing rough regional edges. This friction is sometimes generated by India’s well-meaning yet overwhelming influence on the region. Although economic and military influence will cause some wariness among India’s South Asian neighbours, soft power plays a contrasting role. Soft tactics like aid and entertainment industry from India can permeate boundaries without meeting resistance. This paper also raises the question whether soft power can bring a silver lining on the horizon for India-Pakistan relations. This is studied by examining the four trajectories of soft power from the Indian perspective. Amidst these ponderings, the Chinese counter-efforts to Indian attempts cannot be ignored.

Document type: Article
Publisher: South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF)
Place of Publication: Brussels
Date: 2018
Version: Secondary publication
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2021 11:54
Faculties / Institutes: Miscellaneous > Individual person
DDC-classification: Political science
Controlled Keywords: Indien, Südasien, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Soft Power
Uncontrolled Keywords: Indien, Südasien, SAARC, China, Soft Power, Kultur, Ethnizität, Diplomatie, soziale Medien / India, South Asia, SAARC, China, soft power, culture, ethnicity, diplomacy, social media
Subject (classification): Politics
Countries/Regions: China
South Asia
Series: Themen > SADF Focus
Volume: 36