Hard-hitting Soft Power

Dr CV Ananda Bose

5 min read
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Representative Image | Photo: Mathrubhumi

India is ready to propel its soft power. Art, culture, heritage and traditions should be called upon to guide the nation through the path of refinement and harmony, universal brotherhood and life in tune with nature. Culture holds in itself, the alchemy which can change the base to the noble and transform the ridiculous into the sublime. The inherent potential of this great soft power of the nation should be used as the talisman for the future.

Harvard Professor Joseph S Nye Jr. defined Soft Power as “the ability to influence the behaviour of others to get the outcome one wants”. Soft power is the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce as done by hard power. Soft power shapes the preferences of others through appeal, attraction, and emulation based on intangible resources such as culture and arts. Soft power is created and sustained through the wide export and consumption of cultural goods across the world. All developed nations augment their military and financial power through cultural exports. The BBC, The British Council, Hollywood Movies, western musicians, publishing houses, consultancies etc. export cultural products and services. In addition to commercial gains, they create goodwill and positive attitudes towards the exporting countries. Organizations like the World Bank, IMF, and other funding agencies export business models and “ways of life” that often become aspirational for developing countries.

Indian heritage and culture are vast and powerful treasure houses due to the myriad ethnic groups residing in our country and their rich and diverse contributions across centuries. Every community passes its customs and traditions down the generations. Our traditions educate us to absorb the values and principles of life to become better human beings and to contribute to the maintenance of a responsible and caring society. Our cultural heritage is a gift from many wise generations to help us build a harmonious society.

Culture and creativity are undeniably the two main pillars of strengths that bind the hearts, souls, entire societies, and nations. India, without being a nation-state for many centuries, had decentralized power structures. But, the commonalities in our culture have held such large and diverse groups together with unwritten, subtle, yet powerful glue of “Indianness”.

What value do we give to art and culture in our society?

How do we treat and respect art, artists and artisans?

How do we support the transmission of unique skills from one generation to the next?

How do we capture and preserve creations? How do we make them available within and outside the country?

‘Kala Kranti’ project should be launched as India’s flagship project which will trigger the growth and development of art and culture, consolidating the intangible and great contributions of our heritage and traditions. Soft power can chasten, calm and refine society as nothing else can.

A global outreach project should be launched to encourage talented youngsters to find their place in the creative world across the globe.

We should set up an Art Authority of India, as the nodal agency to promote India’s soft power. Art and heritage villages should be established in all states of the country. National and international art festivals should be organized to bring out the best of Indian art and expose the essence of India to the world. There should be a national registration of artists with talent mapping. Artists should be provided with an assured basic income through direct transfer to their accounts in times of distress, disaster and deprivation. Artists should be graded and treated as professionals. Indian Art League should be promoted on the lines of IPL in cricket and ISL in football. The Panchayati raj institutions should be empowered to promote art and artists in their respective jurisdictions. Artists should be engaged in our embassies abroad as cultural envoys of the nation. Overarching legislation should be brought to protect the rights of artists and practitioners in the field of culture and heritage. India should establish an international television channel which will showcase the real India before the inquisitive world. The ‘Kalakranti’ should bring out the best that is there in Indian art and culture.

The bedrock of a nation’s soft power is no doubt, education.

The New Education Policy has received wide appreciation and acceptance among educationists, teachers, students, parents and civil society. India is all set to become a global education hub with an India-centric curriculum and pedagogy. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.” we see the future of India as a universal guru for which focus should be placed on the training of teachers who, by their quality and dedication, will emerge as the natural choice as the teachers of the world. Institutions of excellence should be nurtured, promoted and facilitated.

Representative image | Photo: Mathrubhumi

Learning villages should be set up in various parts of the country to promote the best and the brightest among the student community. An action plan should be drawn up and implemented so as to ensure a unique niche for India as the leader in education in the emerging new world. In tune with the digital transformation in the world, an online Gurukul system should be developed synchronizing the teaching and learning heritage of India with the tools of the fast developing Information and communication technology.

The most visible manifestation of soft power is the film. The Indian film industry has a significant positive impact on the economy and has been very successful in culture exports. Futuristic steps by the government are needed to support, protect, and provide assistance to the film industry. Timely action is essential to ensure the recovery and continued success of the Indian film industry, which has suffered heavy losses due to the Covid pandemic.

The post-covid world is witnessing changes in the way films are distributed with a dominant role by OTT platforms. This will have both positive and negative impacts on the industry. On the positive side, many films could find avenues for release and have an instant global reach. However, the 3 largest OTT platforms in India today, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Hot star, are owned by multinational giants. This could create an unfair situation for the Indian film industry in terms of weaker bargaining power and ensuing exploitation.

We should evaluate and regulate the rules of engagement between the Indian film industry and OTT platforms. Such measures shall ensure fairness, equity, and the best return for the industry on investments through the realization of the real value of their intellectual properties. India should set up a large OTT platform with a private sector partnership. With the number of films produced in the country, this could be an economically viable proposition. So, there will be sufficient commercial interest to provide national competition in OTT film distribution.

Tennyson is right, “Men may rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things”. India should rediscover her past, redefine the present and recoup herself for the future.

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