Pandemics and wars change world orders. Whether it was the plague or the World Wars, the world has never returned to a pre-catastrophic state. The most remarkable transformation has been that of the USA into a mighty soft power after the end of the Cold War.
Soft power, as we know, is a law of attraction. Everything from jeans, to F.R.I.E.N.D.S, to Harvard that stands for the American Dream and Western liberalism is Soft Power. It is getting others to agree with you through culture, ideology, and institution instead of military or money.
Talking of current Covid-19 crisis, there are 1,281,494 active Covid-19 cases around the world, of which 0.62% are in India, a country with 17.7% of the world’s population. More than 80% of worldwide active cases are concentrated in the USA and Europe, while their populations are only 4.25% and 9.78%, respectively, raising questions on their future ability to anymore attract others.
Can this be an opportunity that India can seize? For more reasons than one.
Pre-2020 | Promising shifts of the soft power centre
From US to China
There has been a potent shift from West to East in the works, powered by China. The West’s liberal soft power was imploding with the rise of the right wing leaders like Donald Trump and the unstable socio-economic growth. Pillars of free speech like social media were being questioned.
On the other hand, China had become the fastest growing trillion-dollar economy. It rejected western ideals of democracy and freedom, sticking to its own. It has been trying to usher in a new era of soft power with 500 Confucius Institutes around the world, the Silk Road Scholarship Programme for 10,000+ foreign students every year, and of course, it's dominance in sports.
The India rising
The inherent vastness and appeal of Indian art and culture has led to striking examples of India’s show of soft power in the past few years. These include A.R. Rahman shining at the Oscars; chicken tikka masala taking the UK by storm, Sundar Pichai at the helm of Alphabet, and 4 Indian women making it to the Forbes Most Powerful Women list last year.
The current government also seemed to be taking a few promising steps, with initiatives like AYUSH and International Day of Yoga. In 2017, out of 200 million yoga practitioners in the world, 50% were non-Indians. In Budget 2020, Rs.400 crore were allocated for ‘world class institutions’, with a focus on bringing in more foreign students under the Study in India initiative.
The pandemic pressure on western giants
A huge part of soft power, as much as attraction, is TRUST.
The US and China have been locking horns in a trade war that resulted in a global economic slowdown. Now, they are both busy in a Corona blame-game. Whether it is the US’ inaction at the beginning, or Trump’s preposterous statements, nothing seems to be working for them. On the other hand, the world is beginning to believe that China has betrayed it by hiding facts about the outbreak, and making an economic opportunity of a crisis in the West with its supply of medical equipment. China’s growth has been predicted at 8% by Oxford Economics for Q2, while all other economies are stagnant.
Europe, whose hallmark is unity, is cracking at its borders. When Italy was in dire need of masks, the EU didn’t help, China grabbed the chance again. 12 states have blocked internal borders, in what seems to be a much-debated decision amongst themselves.
In the light of these events, the Laws of Attraction are bound to gradually stop working in the favour of the giants.
The road ahead for India
India can be the strong soft power leader the world needs post the pandemic. In an interesting take, Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran have projected India as a ‘developmental power’. India’s power, they reckon, can come from global governance solutions and developmental aid, especially to Asian and African nations.
Post the Cold War, the US showed us a new way to become a superpower— capitalism. Then, China walked in with a completely opposite communist structure. With both systems set to lose their hold, India’s unique model which tries to hit the sweet spot between capitalism and socialism itself is a potential attraction for the youth of the world.
Going beyond cheap labour and tech offshoring
Tech giants of the world had begun launching new products in India first and then in the rest of the world. For example, Uber Lite, offline Google Maps, and Google Pay. With China’s dominating tech products production centres indefinitely shut, India has an opening for furthering the ‘Make In India’ agenda and shifting the global centre for technology
There is another step in strengthening our tech resources, which is upgrading our techies. Coding is no more the next big thing, it is the Future Skills of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. If the next crop of Indian whiz kids is equipped with AI/ML expertise, with the IITs and IIMs fostering AI-led enterprise, we will be ready to welcome international investments and students. While we focus on this at home, our rich culture needs to be leveraged to full potential with the spread of ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) at the pace of Confucius institutes and Alliance Francaise.
To rephrase P. Sainath, everyone loves a good crisis; and this one has the prospect to be India’s Cold War.
Snehal is Columnist at GGI.
She is a writer, poet, music aficionado, Oxford comma proponent, and a lot of other things. She also writes on personal finance for 'Qrius Creative Labs'. She has worked as a copywriter, content writer, scriptwriter, creative strategist, and direction assistant at multiple organisations in the past.
Snehal is a graduate from the Bachelor in Mass Media, Advertising from St.Xavier's College, Bombay.