Fallacy of Indian Soft Power – An Inquiry

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Sagheer Ahmed

Nature of warfare has altered manifestation of power as nuclear weapons have reduced war-fighting to deterrence.

In recent times the notion of power has seen some fundamental changes. One, hard power alone may not guarantee victory as in most cases political ends are not achievable through sheer application of military force. Nor necessarily does the stronger win always. U.S. war in Vietnam was lost despite massive strategic bombing campaign and a powerful army. U.S. interventions in Iraq too could not be concluded to desired ends. They rather made the region more unstable by eruption of small power groups and other factors – ISIS in the neighborhood, Kurdish Peshmerga, sectarian polarization and ineffective writ of incumbent government to name a few.


Two, nature of warfare has altered manifestation of power as nuclear weapons have reduced war-fighting to deterrence. In Bernard Brodie’s words, “the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on, its chief purpose must to be avert them. It can have no other useful purpose.” Although there is a long debate on purpose of nuclear weapons but to many the chief purpose of nuclear weapons remains to be deterrence. Three, direct application of force is not possible on non-state actors in the age of terrorism. This remains to be the prime concern of asymmetric warfare. Apart from many asymmetries that are compared, e.g., magnitude, type etc. the actual asymmetry lies in the morphed nature of ‘the enemy’.


Four, use of hard power is not a cost-effective and preferable way of achieving the objectives if the same can be done through softer means by following Sun Tzu’s dictum:“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting... To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

 

Every 18 minutes, a crime is committed against a Dalit every day and two Indians die every minute because of air pollution.

Five, apart from traditional elements of national power there is much pronounced, more versatile, far-reaching and quick social media transcending the whole world on a single click. Probably social media is the most effective tool of soft power appeal but in some cases it might turn otherwise. The five fundamental changes suggest that apart from hard power there are host of other means available to forward agendas and achieve objectives – these are soft power strategies.


So what exactly is soft power? Explaining the great influence that U.S. had despite declining relative military hard power dominance, Joseph S. Nye in his famous 90s article coined the term ‘soft power’. Borrowing Shashi Tharoor’s simplification, “Nye argued that power is the ability to alter the behaviour of others to get what you want, and there are three ways to do that: coercion (sticks), payments (carrots) and attraction (soft power). If you are able to attract others, you can economize on the sticks and carrots.” Nye’s soft power explanation was preceded by hard power obsession before 90s but this was also short lived as he himself introduced a new term called ‘smart power’ in 2003 that echoed most in the international discourse. In essence smart combines both hard power and soft power strategies – combination of all tools at the disposal of a state. Some similar conceptualization exists in terms of hybrid warfare which as per U.S. discourse is mostly narrowed to Russia, especially studying Crimea episode of 2014.

 

fallacyofindian.jpgAlthough gains of Soft Power appeal are difficult to quantify it is still convenient to gauge how a particular country is represented and known by the world masses at large. It is surely not by how a country typically wants it to be seen rather a product of different experiences observed during various eventualities and conduct of groups of people both; inland and abroad. For instance in 2010, Copiapo mining accident in Chile left a remarkable impression in our memories. In this incident 33 miners who were trapped 700 metres underground and about 5 km away from mine entrance survived for 69 days before they were uniquely rescued. The calm and composed stranded miners and the unique rescue operation where each person was wriggled out one by one tells a lot about the character of that very nation and faith they have on their governments. Take a look at Fukushima incident. While there was tremendous effects of disaster at nuclear power plant, the composure of people tells a story of its own. No one entered any house that was open due to sanctity of private place and respect for peoples’ ‘personal life’ and of course there still was no chaos. These events cannot be manifested/manufactured or articulated but appear out of natural consequences. Can you stage-manage these?


The above construct places us perfectly into viewing Modi’s India. India has been characteristically famous for its soft appeal through ancient Hindu tradition, Gandhi’s pacifism, Nehru’s idealism, display of culture, colourful traditions, scientists’ contribution to Silicon Valley, films of Bollywood, Ayurveda and yoga. The effects of these glittering exhibitions – akin to glittering generalities – has been so scintillating and startling that world has not been able to view the real image of India or the most boasted concept of Indian-ness prior to Modi’s government. Many masks have started to be removed in post-Modi era. Modi has a legacy as Mushahid Hussain notes, “[he] is a life-long member of RSS, a para-military Hindu organization inspired by fascist movements of Europe… suffering from deep-seated Mahmood of Ghazni complex”. In this context, Gujarat massacre of 2002 under Nerendra Modi’s watch, when as many as 2000 people (mostly Muslims) were killed due to riots, is still fresh in most minds. Considering this, U.S. had denied him visa in 2005. He could only set foot on U.S. soil once he visited as Prime Minister of India after a decade in 2014. Once, he took the oath as PM, it was a time that public discourse was replete with a lot of criticism on Two Nation Theory and the need for a separate Muslim state. But soon the real Indian face started to expose out of various cover-ups. The anti-Muslim extreme right groups have taken the whole Indian soft power to hostage. Every now and then a ‘cow incident’ happens. The scholars and literary people have started refusing to take their degrees in protest to intolerance. The visitors and tourists are pursuing rape cases while the new ones are being welcomed with specific travel advisories. The cricket, art and music too have become hostage to these extremist groups. Many artists have been banned to perform, the legend Om Puri due to his open views is suspected to be murdered. Shabana Azmi in an interview stated that she could not own a flat in Mumbai because of being Muslim. So was the case with Saif Ali Khan, and this is a narrative that is building on. Due to consistency of such incidents the very ‘cultural collage’ of Indian ‘soft empire’ has become tainted. These events and happenings cannot be masked in the age of social media and continue to expose ‘the Indian-ness’ that is in the conduct of daily life events.

 

India has been characteristically famous for its soft appeal through ancient Hindu tradition, Gandhi’s pacifism, Nehru’s idealism, display of culture, colourful traditions, scientists’ contribution to Silicon Valley, films of Bollywood, Ayurveda and yoga. The effects of these glittering exhibitions – akin to glittering generalities – has been so scintillating and startling that world has not been able to view the real image of India or the most boasted concept of Indian-ness prior to Modi’s government. Many masks have started to be removed in post-Modi era.

It is also important to have a look at some of the facts that are otherwise circulating on the web. You would not wonder if you had ‘Google searched’ for most corrupt prime minister of the world and find images of Prime Minister Modi at the top. Dig more and you would find that rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. According to Indian National Crime Records Bureau annual report, 36,735 rape cases were reported across India in 2014 which is a 9% increase to 2013. In this age of modernity, technology and development, a staggering 70% of Indians living in villages – or some 550 million people – defecate in the open. Even 13% of urban households do so. The situation is so bad that open defecation is more common in India than in poorer countries like Bangladesh, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Burundi and Rwanda. People do it despite building of toilets by the state because it is a ‘cultural norm’. As a visitor from outside you might suffer from ‘Delhi belly’ which is resulted from eating contaminated food. As per suicide rate per 100,000, India scores 21.1 which is 11th in the world. As per UN report data, one third of the world’s 1.2 billion extreme poor lived in India alone that ranks 1st in the list. As per a report, 64 million people, representing one in six urban residents, live in slums with unsanitary conditions ‘unfit for human habilitation’. Every 18 minutes, a crime is committed against a Dalit every day and two Indians die every minute because of air pollution.


The sorry state of affairs of a common man, despite being 7th wealthiest country, 3rd largest military, and 6th largest defence budget , is thus not a secret. In Shashi Tharoor’s words “If America is a melting pot… India is a thali — a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate.” In this so called thali there are 30 armed insurgency movements which reflect an acute sense of alienation on the part of the people. The pellet bullet atrocities and murder of Burhan Wani in Kashmir’s indigenous struggle is also not a story of a past. Social media is replete with images of celebrities and Indian leaders photoshopped with pellet wounds just to create awareness and feelings in general public.


With all the great elements of national power; its military strength, area, geography, economy, and aspiration for a great power status, India needs to correct its internal accounts which are otherwise boasted to be the exuberant soft power attractions. India might have understood the aim of Nye’s soft power and carried it along for good times, but the present events under Modi’s watch have definitely altered the manifestation of Indian ‘soft empire’.


As these lines of article are being penned down the real Indian face continues to be exposed on regular basis e.g., proposal by an MP on death sentence for cow slaughter and installing a far right oriented Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh with well known extreme ideas. The world in general and West in particular needs to relook on its infatuation with Indian soft appeal, which in real sense is contrary to what is commonly believed. In reality, colours of holi are smeared with the blood of innocent minorities. The Indian music is trying to mask the plight of Muslims, Kashmiris, Dalits and other minorities. The ‘thali’ boasted to be representative of all Indian segments even does not allow for Muslim cuisine (beef). The world must take notice of this beguile and fallacy sooner than later.

 

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13 comments

  • Comment Link Hashim Hashim 20 April 2017

    Talking of India, most people simply get impressed by statistics e.g. large landmass, second largest population, largest democracy (so to speak), very large standing army and sister services, of course the film & media, etc. However, Mr Sagheer Ahmed doesn't seem to buy myths about hard & soft power of India, as is clear from his incisive analysis. Mr Sagheer has made some very good points requiring further probe and deeper analysis.

  • Comment Link Muhammad Faisal Muhammad Faisal 18 April 2017

    Very well researched and well crafted article which will definitely set a tone to research the real face of India as well as a milestone to devise a national media policy for Pakistan

  • Comment Link Asim Sohail Malik Asim Sohail Malik 18 April 2017

    A well written article which has exposed the real face of India. My heartiest fecilitations on ur efforts.

  • Comment Link Qadeer Qadeer 18 April 2017

    India's soft power has many faces: the traditional soft power anchored in its centuries old civilization and manifested through its culture. The ugly face of India's soft power is" Modification" of this traditional S Power through marginilazation of its minorities through hindutwa mantra. Yes, India's S Power is showing its ugly face while the world is looking the other way.
    My appreciation to the writer for appropriately contextualising this enigma.

  • Comment Link Faisal Faisal 17 April 2017

    expression exposing real face of India without mincing words...a worth read!!!

  • Comment Link Z H Hashmi Z H Hashmi 17 April 2017

    Very well articulated by Mr Sagheer.

  • Comment Link Shmyl Qadeer Shmyl Qadeer 17 April 2017

    Very Good approach, written splendidly.

  • Comment Link Asfand Yar ALi KHan Asfand Yar ALi KHan 17 April 2017

    Well I totally agree with you. This was a great effort by you sir !
    We all should think about it ..
    #ZaraSochiye

  • Comment Link Asfand Yar ALi KHan Asfand Yar ALi KHan 17 April 2017

    Well I totally agree with you. This was a great effort by you sir !
    We all should think about it ..
    #ZaraSochiye

  • Comment Link Ammad Hassan Ammad Hassan 17 April 2017

    Interesting analogy, good build up of arguments and intriguing closing. Internal clutches are still too strong to be broken to match rosy "slogans". Issues highlighted in the article are surely eye openers for many at New Delhi. Per Se! India is far from understanding dynamics of Soft Power let alone use it. Soft Power is likely to remain a fallacy till foreseeable future.

    Overall, I liked reading it.

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