October 3, 2006
India's Growing Soft Power

There is a nice article on the Financial Times India site about India's growing 'soft power'. Soft power is one of those buzzwords that was kind of cool a few years ago, but I think it is still very relevant and is going to remain relevant in the near future at least. The term was coined by the Harvard professor Joseph Nye to describe the force of a country's culture in international diplomacy. (As opposed to hard power, which is equated with military and economic might.) America has been good at this kind of thing for many years, and now, as other global economies like India assert their presence, they're realizing that their soft power can be a pretty neat strategic asset and sometimes, even a bargaining chip. I remember reading about this some years ago - but when the US forces captured Afghanistan and set up an interim government, etc., one of the first things that the Indian government did was send a couple of planeloads of Bollywood video and audio cassettes, for the people who had been deprived of these during the Taliban regime. Not food, not medicine, but entertainment. Similarly, at around the time last year when the India-US nuclear deal was being finalized, there was a surfeit of magazine covers in the US media about the 'rise' of India, and this time, interestingly, it wasn't just software or outsourcing that were being discussed, but also Indian popular culture. And as the FT article notes, this soft power offensive is producing strong tangible and consistent results....

India dominated discussions of the "creative imperative" at Davos in January, was "partner country" for the Hanover Trade Fair in May and then "theme country" at the Bonn Biennale, a culture fest for theatre lovers...Next week, India will be guest of honour at the Frankfurt book fair and the subject of a four-month festival that opens at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels.

I think that it is vital for our corporate partners interested in globalization and pop cosmopolitanism to consistently track the global soft power index, so that when countries like India (Or Korea, with the Hallyu or Korean wave phenomenon across the Asia Pacific) begin to rise culturally, they are ready to take advantage of the buzz, devise strategies to perhaps tap into these trends, and then ride their crest. Pop cosmopolitanism doesn't just happen out of the blue, it builds up slowly under the surface and then suddenly burts into the mainstream. It's both a push and pull phenomenon - and Nye's concept of soft power serves as a good lens to look at the push aspect of it.