The Modi government is working on developing a “soft power matrix”, a tool aimed at calibrating the effectiveness of India’s soft power outreach in dealings with neighbouring countries and leveraging it better as an operational instrument in India’s broader diplomatic doctrine. “The process of putting in place a soft power matrix is currently at a research stage and the government expects that this, when ready, would help foster better diplomatic traction in India’s immediate neighbourhood and beyond,” a government official said. The articulation of India’s soft power abroad is currently being done through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), with some 36 foreign cultural centres working to promote artistic and cultural traditions through a range of activities such as Festivals of India abroad.
The proposed matrix is being developed to calibrate outreach efforts such as the propagation of Gandhian values and philosophy, the strength of the Mumbai film industry, educational scholarships extended by the Ministry of External Affairs, extending humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to help mitigate the adverse impact of natural disasters.
Alongside, mementos offered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his engagements with world leaders over the last three years, including the gold-plated replica of Kerala’s Cheraman Juma Masjid, the replica of Khamsa-i Khusrau by the 13th century Sufi poet Amir Khusrau, and bookends with inscriptions from the Bhagavad Gita are also being seen as efforts to buttress the strength of Indian cultural heritage. In the wake of the Prime Minister’s just concluded visit to West Asia, a proposal being considered involves that of opening a cultural centre for the entire Gulf region.
The challenge in each of these initiatives, however, is that while ‘soft power’ is perceived to be an intangible ingredient of a state’s power, it is difficult to measure the definite impact of these measures. The proposed ‘matrix’, an official said, is being seen as an attempt to establish the linkages between India’s soft power and tangible outcomes in the area of diplomacy.
The move to try and quantify this aspect of India’s diplomacy comes in the wake of criticism that the country has not been been able to adequately leverage its ‘soft power’ in matters of foreign policy. Also, India’s soft power so far is perceived as having functioned independently of government policies, without the backing of a focused policy or adequate backing with financial resources. The Standing Committee on External Affairs, in a report two years ago, had recommended that the Ministry of External Affairs formulate a “comprehensive and well-structured policy” delineating India’s soft power resources and their articulation abroad.
It was recommended that the MEA and the ICCR allocate resources to propagate an image of India that augments the country’s natural historical appeal, empowering its diplomacy and foreign policy. Given India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, it was also suggested that the MEA selectively exercise its soft power in neighbouring states for better diplomatic traction.