The “precious pluralism” that has been a civilisational asset to India in the globalised world is “sadly” under threat today and religious intolerance and majoritarian politics should not be allowed to undermine the country’s soft power, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on Monday.
Speaking on ‘India’s Soft Power: Contours of Cultural Diplomacy’ at an event organised by FICCI, Tharoor said India must remain the land of the “better story” as a society with free press and thriving mass media.
“We need both soft power and hard power. I do want to stress on the importance of preserving these qualities in India that make us appealing to the world. The precious pluralism that has been a civilisational asset for India in the globalised world and is sadly under threat in our country today,” he said.
“Our democracy and dissent, our thriving free media, our contentious civil society forums, our energetic human rights groups, our free elections and our fractious political parties all of this show India in a very positive light in the eyes of the world so the kinds of things the government likes to delegitimize — dissent is bad, you are anti-national — actually these are the things that strengthen our image abroad,” he said.
He further said it is essential that India does not allow “spectre of religious intolerance and majoritarian politics to undermine our soft power which remains our greatest asset in the world of the 21st century”. “These assets (soft power) may not directly persuade others to support India but it goes a long way in enhancing India’s intangible standing in the world’s eyes and that is why I am talking about soft power in this context as one of actually promoting the assets and products of our society and culture that the world would find attractive,” he said.
Calling Information Technology as India’s soft power, he said, “We have gone from being associated with beggars and snake charmers and fakirs and we are now associated with being computer geeks.” Noting that India has been benefiting from the future and the past, he elaborated on the reach of yoga across the world.
“International Day of Yoga was a genuine coup for our government because it meant every year one day people will be performing yoga and recalling India in many ways,” he said. He also talked about the popularity of Indian cuisine and the film and television industry.
“Indian restaurants have proliferated around the world. You are looking at ways our cuisine has acquired universal ability. It is striking that in the UK, the curry houses employ more people than ship building, coal mining and steel making industries combined but we can go beyond to talk about cinema,” he said.
“I can tell you from my international experience of innumerable conversations with African ministers and diplomats who would speak fondly of the expectations of looking forward as young children of the next Bollywood film coming to their village,” he said.