The term ‘soft power’ was coined by Harvard academic Joseph Nye to describe the many strengths of the United States. Nye attributed America’s world dominance to the fact that the American lifestyle is its most successful export, taking the American Dream global and making its cultural currency-blue jeans, burgers, Beyonce, Hollywood-the currency of aspiration. Soft power “is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals”- multiculturalism, democracy, and a free press.
India has much more of past and present that can make its excel. India is a resilient and vibrant democracy, a multicultural federation with an astonishingly complex mix of race, religion, caste and language, a great civilisation with a rich artistic heritage and history that can be excavated all the way back to Harappa. The recent achievements of Indian entrepreneurs has ushered in a season of hope.
I happened to watch a panel discussion- ‘Is India poised to take off as a global soft power?’, organised by ‘The Times of India’ as part of its ‘India Poised’ campaign.
Some of the interesting and informative aspects of the interactions were as follows:
Shashi Tharoor– “England’s curry houses employ more people than its coal, oil and shipping industries combined.” The country’s core strengths are its remarkable multiculturalism and successful management of diversity. “One of the most extraordinary events took place when a Roman Catholic stepped aside for a Sikh prime minister who was sworn in by a Muslim president. I was traveling in the Arab world at the time and I remember the effect it had. The best thing of course is that it wasn’t aimed at the rest of the world. The fact that we can enshrine this diversity is remarkable.”
Mahesh Bhatt– “Let us have the guts to confront our innermost, hideous selves and stop talking about our status as a spiritual civilisation. I was recently in Benares where 15 lakh people were taking a dip for moksha…and at the same time, an old woman died of neglect on the street. ” “We pat ourselves on the back for being secular. But the Sachar Committee has been a slap in the face of the government. What have you given the Muslims in 60 years?”
Jaggi Vasudev: “Mark Twain (who visited India in 1896) said, ‘Anything that can ever be done by God or man has been done in this land.’ But in all this talk about divinity, we have forgotten about humanity. At every street corner we have built toilets, not temples. A pee is more important that a prayer; it is certainly more compelling than a prayer.” “A lot of junk spirituality has gone to the West over the years. People do a two-week course and think they are spiritual teachers or read one chapter of a book and become teachers.”
Shobhaa De: “We haven’t really leveraged our strengths. Why are we still crawling to the West for attention? When I wrote Starry Nights years ago, it was torn to shreds. But at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, my books received huge acclaim. Starry Nights is being read all over now. We constantly seek appreciation from the West and that is why we embrace writers with any kind of India connection. Let’s face it, the only book we’ve ever produced that really counts in the West is the Kama Sutra. Writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Salman Rushdie who live abroad and are shaped by those societies, cannot strictly be called Indian. The only three writers in English of significance that India has produced are Arundhati Roy, who I think is brilliant, Vikram Seth and R K Narayan. I think this whole thing is pathetic-begging for an Oscar, begging for a Booker, begging for a foreign readership.”
Prasoon Joshi– “What kind of image are we portraying to the world? “We need to define India. Bollywood is hardly India.” A Vikram Chatwal wedding becomes India. What we are projecting now is a caricature. Premchand’s body of work is much greater than Jhumpa’s, but more people know about Jhumpa’s work.” “India is a coexistence of contradictions.”
Mahesh Bhatt: “I have met the kind of Indian you need to project. He is a boatman in Bastar, deep in Madhya Pradesh, who charges Re 1 to ferry people across the river. I asked him, ‘Bhai, are you aware of the bridge the government is building? Phir tumhara kya hoga?’ He replied, ‘Humara jo hoga so hoga, logon ka bhalla hoga.’ That generosity of spirit is what defines the true Indian, not the man who is a wannabe, who craves for the West’s attention”.
Neville Tuli– “In order for a country to become a power its three value systems have to move in harmony: its economy, spiritual core, and culture. We have no great cultural infrastructure. What I have tried to do is give financial self-sufficiency to the arts. At the heart of the arts is knowledge, and we have failed to build the infrastructure that will transform that knowledge into wealth.”
Sadhguru– “In every profession there are fakes. There are fake engineers, fake doctors, and fake gurus. When it comes to gurus, the hurt is much deeper since you go with greater expectation and trust. This expectation is no new thing, but something that has been built up over generations. Yes, there are people shivering in the cold. You cannot talk spirituality to them and no fool is talking to them about this either. But just as much as there is a need for economic well-being there is a need for inner well-being.”
Neville Tuli: One of the problems facing India was the conflict between the intelligentsia and materialism. There is a deep sense of pseudo-corruption among intellectuals who feel that if they enter the world of commerce to implement their ideas, they somehow corrupt themselves. “And when you try to get good people on board you have people saying you’re trying to advertise your art fund.”
And then Shobhaa De explained what ‘India Poised’ is. “When we say India Poised, we are recognising a psychological moment. Today we are proud to be Indian, which we have not been for a long time-and thank God it’s not linked to cricket.”
And the next moment the news came. India lost the match with West Indies<