Thursday, December 20, 2007

Softpower! India?

A few years ago, an American writer, Joseph Nye (Dean, Kennedy School, Harvard; former Assistant Secretary of Defense) created a new term - Softpower. This term has become quite popular and today has earned itself a place in Wikipedia. His book (Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics; by Joseph S. Nye) became a best seller and today that term is used frequently and easily. A Google search throws up more than 18 million items under soft power.

Nye says (I wonder if he realises his cynicism) - “Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Both hard and soft powers are important in the war on terrorism, but attraction is much cheaper than coercion and an asset that needs to be nourished”.

Nye says that the USA is world’s largest softpower - based on its attraction to outsiders due to its movies, music, books, TV, education, et al. Analysts worry about the rise of the Chinese soft power.

India has long been a soft power - without the cynical use of soft power (because it is cheaper); without wanting to make others follow our will and the ability to use carrot and sticks!

Will they ever change?

Will we ever learn!

How does India Stack Up

Half of the world follows Indian religion and culture - China (Buddhism), Indonesia (consider that Mahabharata is their national epic and their use of Sanskritic names), entire South East Asia (except Philippines, which has been Spanished and then Americanised) and of course India. What makes the Indian success remarkable as a major soft power centre is that this status has been acquired without significant military cost or economic expenditure.

Archaeological artifacts have turned up in at Altyn Tepe (in modern Turkestan), in Babylon and Turkey (Boghazkoi) - in the period of 2000BC. This pulls back the date of the Indo-Aryan civilization to 3000-4000 BC - which Euro centric historians have reluctant to agree. This shows the spread of Indian culture - 2000-3000 years before the rise of Rome.

Indian Status Today

Which country has the largest number of universities? (If you have been a regular reader of my posts you would have guessed the answer).

University & Higher Education

USA stands at No.2. with 5000 universities and colleges. India at 8000 universities and colleges is way ahead. This becomes remarkable when you consider the time frame. Much like the Indian ramp up in software (from a software minnow to leadership status in a short span of 10 years).

This huge infrastructure has been built up in a short span of 60 years of post colonial existence. In this huge build up, quality has suffered. The Indian challenge in the next 25 years is to further build on this size - and importantly to build on the lack of qualitative edge. These challenges are relatively easily addressed - and the cost implications are also minimal. My estimate is that a 2 US$ billion investment will do the trick.

TV Programming

Bruce Springsteen released a song some time back - 57 channels and nothing on! 57 seemed like a huge number then and India had 6 channels. Today the Indian TV industry supports more than 600 channels and there are 400 more channels in the offing - awaiting governmental clearances.

Indian studios churn out news in more than 10 languages, entertainment library which is now more than 10,00,000 hours of programming. With all this new channels and expansion, in 2007 FY, an estimated 5,00,000 hours of programming will be produced. India is global leader by a vast stretch. Europe by comparison is a toddler - and the only other comparison with India is USA.

The World’s Largest Movie Industry

It is not Mumbai. No, it is not even Hollywood. Telugu films catering to a small market makes more films in a year than Mumbai or Hollywood does. Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh is India’s largest city - without a history of colonial rule.

The Nizam state was not ruled by the British India - and had its own currency, legal and administrative set up. The three biggest administrative reforms were initiated by leaders who originated from this state. The pre-1950 ruler of the Hyderabad State was the Nizam of Hyderabad - HEH Osman Ali badshah. Reputedly, at one time the richest man in the world, very frugal, he wore repaired sherwanis and re-lit half smoked cigarettes. While decadent Nawabs made a mess in London and Paris - the Nizam worked at making his state a fore-runner in India.

The World’s Largest Music Industry

India releases more music, in more languages, than any other country in the world. We have, of course, the world’s oldest living tradition in music. Compared to India’s music tradition of 2000 years (at least), Western Music is about 400-500 years old. Most are aware of modern music - but the scene in classical music is still very vibrant.

Bhajans from Mirabai’ s, Tulsidas, Surdas of 500 years ago, continue to sell in volumes and in demand. Thyagaraja’s and Dikshitaar’s compositions in Telugu, 300 years old are still mainstream music - compared to the Western classical music which has become a fringe music tradition - both of similar vintage.

The Largest Publishing Industry In The World

India again has more newspapers, books and magazines than any other country in the world - in more languages. Our closest contender is USA.

Points Of Interest

1. Indian prowess as a soft power - A small change in the regulatory environment - and poof! We achieve global scale.

2. All these scales and volumes have been achieved without Government subsidies and support.

3. These strengths flow from centuries of tradition.

4. External influences and aggression has not dimmed these instincts and abilities.

Will India wake up and use its soft power - not in the manner that the West has used it - but as a humanizing element.

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