Have you seen people wearing sweatshirts from Harvard and UCLA? What about sweatshirts written in NYC and California? What comes to your mind when you hear anime? Japan right. So what is this phenomenon where a person, despite having no relation to a certain country, lets it influence their purchases and sometimes opinion. This  ability to get your way through attraction not coercion is called “soft power”. This term that was first coined by an American political scientist Joseph Nye.

“A country’s ability to influence the preferences and behaviours of various actors in the international arena (states, corporations, communities, publics etc.) through attraction or persuasion rather than coercion.”

Joseph Nye, Harvard University

A nation with positive soft power is able to mould the perceptions of the people and promote itself as a the destination for trade, investment, education, tourism and ultimately residence. 

In the latter half of 20th century and early 21st century, America has been one of the biggest soft power on the global stage. However, in recent years, another nation has made its stronghold as a global soft power, which is India.

Rise Of India’s Soft Power 

As the oldest civilization to ever exist, India has always been an influence throughout history. Trade roots, philosophy and world economy had always been defined directly or indirectly by India. But this influence was compromised with planned action and policies during the colonial era. Nevertheless 77 years after independence, India re-emerged as not only a hard power (militarily robust) but also as a soft power.

Through its vibrant culture, movies and music, science and innovation, religiosity and spirituality India has become a global soft power.

Movies, Music & More

India is a country with a diverse and culture-rich population and movies and music are the expression of this diversity. 

The movie industry of India is a multilingual and multi-ethnic industry comprising 21 regional film industries.  Predominantly Hindi Cinema (Bollywood) has been the most-known film industry among them and influential since its establishment. Here are some examples – 

  • In the 50s Raj Kapoor’s songs can frequently be heard in the streets of China and Russia. His movie ‘Awara’ was the highest-grossing movie in China and Soviet Russia that year. In fact it has been remade 8 times in Turkey.
  • In the 80s Mithun‘s song ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ also became a part of Russian culture. This song was also used in 2020 by the Chinese people protesting against the dictatorial lockdown measures taken by the government. 
  • Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan is one the most influential global star of this era. He is the global ambassador of Emirates and has fans all over the world including the likes of high profile Hollywood actors and directors and global political leaders.
  • Academy award winner music director A.R. Rahman‘s music is also very well known in western world.
  • Seasoned filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese have multiple times started that they were immensely inspired by the work of Satyajit Ray, who is one the most influential director of India.

During the Taliban occupancy of Afghanistan, people would tune in to the Indian daily soap Kyu ki Saas bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ to cope with their chaotic life and it became the highest-watched show in Afghanistan during its run. 

In recent times other regional cinemas also made their mark on the world stage. Telugu language movie RRR’s win of 33 prestigious international awards including the Oscars and Golden Globes are a testament to that.

Science and Innovation 

  • Research and Development (R&D) -India in recent years has amped its research and innovation sector. According to the report of the Global Innovation Index, it has risen to 41st place in 2021 from 85th place in 2015. With 25 innovation centres, it accounts for 27 percent of Asia’s total innovation centres alone ranking as the top in Asia. India has in the past few years emerged as  the R&D hub for network and medical equipment, aerospace, automotive, biotech, and computer technologies.
  • Indian Digital Payment Infrastructure – With home-grown digital payment infrastructure UPI, it has not only brought a fin-tech revolution but has also broken the monopoly of Anerican digital payment giants – Countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Singapore, and UAE are adopting this payment system. NRIs in the US, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Oman, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already using UPI. With this India has created a neutral, inclusive, affordable and secure alternative for the world.
  • Space Exploration – India in recent years has also become the top player in space technology. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is the hub of some of the most sophisticated space missions to ever be executed. It is the only space agency to put an orbiter around Mars in the first attempt and the first one to land a rover and lander on the south pole of the moon (Chandrayaan 3 Mission with Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover). Executing missions with unique innovation and cost-effectiveness, India has become an inspiration to aspiring nations and put India as a space giant around the globe.

Religiosity, Spirituality and the Dharmic Sphere of Influence

India is home to people of almost every religion.  Time and time in history it has given shelter to victims of religious persecution. 

  • Tibet Connection – In 1959 post invasion by the Chinese Army under Mao Zedong’s leadership, more than eighty thousand Tibetans along with 14th Dalai Lama were forced to flee and seek refuge in India. The Indian city of Dharmasala (Himachal Pradesh) became the home to the spiritual leader and the Tibetan government in-exile. 
  • Yoga & Meditation – Yoga which originated in India is a global phenomenon whose benefits are scientifically proven. An estimated 220 million people practice yoga all over the world and the number is rising. 
  • Spirituality, History & Scriptures – As one of the oldest civilisations in the world, India is a land of undiscovered literature treasures – these scriptures contain vast medical, philosophical and scientific knowledge that is a major attraction for researchers and academicians everywhere.  One such well-known example is that of Robert Oppenheimer. The father of the atomic bomb is an avid Sanskrit scholar and the words of the Bhagavad Gita had a significant influence on his personal and professional life. 
  • Festivals & Cultural Heritage – Do you know that US declared ‘Diwali’ a federal holiday last year? Or that many Russian Drama groups have been performing ‘Ram Leela’ all around the world for year’s now? For years Indian traditions have attracted people of all nationalities, ideologies and religions by spreading the importance of love, humanity and kindness. Be it the Jaisalmer Desert Festival at Rajasthan, Bihu of Assam, Losar of Ladakh, Hornbill at Nagaland, Rathayatra of Odisha or the immensely loved festival of colour, Holi – the widespread popularity of these is not only because they are rooted in tradition but also because each of them encapsulates a lesson that must be imbibed for a healthy mind and soul. 

Art, Architecture & Cuisine 

India is the home to the most intriguing architectural spectacles ever created. The Kailasha temple and caves of Ellora, Ajanta Caves, Konark sun temple, Khajuraho, Ujjain, Hampi, Hawa Mahal, Mysore palace, Harmandir Saheb, Tajmahal, Humayun’s tomb and Red Fort are just some of the marvels amongst them.

Indian cuisine is also one of the unique cuisine all over the world. It is one of the oldest and most diverse cuisines in the world, with a wide range of regional and traditional dishes. The likes of Gordon Ramsay, Garry Meighan and Nigella Lawson have shown their strong affinity towards Indian cuisine. And unbeknownst to most Chicken tikka masala is the national dish of the UK.

Cricket, Indian Premier League

The cherry on the top is India’s domination of international cricket. India hosts the world’s biggest cricket premier league the IPL, which is the most-watched league of cricket and second most in any other league. The Indian cricket board BCCI is the richest in the world and is valued at 2.2 billion dollars. And let’s not forget Indian cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar (regarded as the God of Cricket) or Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni…they are not just names anymore but are worshiped by cricket aficionadoes everywhere.

Today India is looked up to by most developing nations as a role-model. India’s global presence is the result of her uniquely diverse, modern yet traditional outlook towards the development.