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From a latent to a ‘strong’ soft power? The evolution of India’s cultural diplomacy

Palgrave Communicationsvolume 2, Article number: 16091 (2016) | Download Citation


India celebrated when in 2014 the United Nations adopted the 21st of June as International Yoga Day. In recent years India’s leaders have increasingly focused on its diaspora, multicultural ethos and its ancient practices like yoga, through official campaigns and foreign visits. Particularly since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, there has been an increased activism to draw attention to and employ India’s soft power. The article traces the evolution of India as a soft power since its emergence as an independent country. It explores how this soft power has shaped India’s foreign policy and behavior. India’s soft power assets are not of recent origin, but there is an increasing activism to use those assets effectively. Has India evolved as a soft power? What are the characteristics of India’s soft power? How is India’s current political dispensation different from the earlier ones in applying soft power in foreign policy? The article addresses these questions by applying Nye Jr’s concept of soft power and aims to contribute to the debate on soft power by focusing on cultural diplomacy of a rising power. It demonstrates that though soft power resources, including culture, are not new, the increasing awareness and activism of India’s political class to use those resources to realize foreign policy goals is recent. The focus on soft power, particularly cultural diplomacy and its use in foreign policy, has become increasingly visible in recent years. This article also argues that the increasing acceptability of its culture and values opens up possibilities for India to realize foreign policy goals. It will, however, be a daunting task for members of the Indian political class to use soft power effectively unless they address internal and external constraints. This article is published as part of a collection on soft power.

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  1. Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA, USA

    • Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra


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Correspondence to Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra.

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