Report on the Roundtable Discussion at Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi (Part 2)


Report on the Roundtable Discussion at Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi (Part 2)

(Part 1)

Report on the Roundtable Discussion at

Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi

(11th August 2017)

Dr Aftab Alam, Assistant Professor, Zakir Husain Delhi College

Title: India’s Soft Power: Exploring Linkages with Southeast Asia

Dr Aftab Alam presented his paper in a very structured manner which encompassed everything from the definition to issues concerned to the solutions and changes that needs to be implemented with respect to the contemporary global scenario. He defines soft power as an attraction or the ability to attract other nations and influence and change their preferences in ones favour. He made a special mention of ICCR and Public Diplomacy Division of Ministry of External Affairs which engaged on cultural and economic soft power. He holistically covered a lot of aspects with respect to its impact on the global scenario and also gave us few examples to support the arguments. He talked of Indian cuisines becoming famous all over the world, and also Chicken Tikka Masala and Masala Dosa which is widely famous in all over South-east Asia where he also included few of his anecdotes into the speech which made it a lot more interesting. He mostly emphasised on the impact of the soft power that India has been exercising and how it manifested in terms of there being erected statues of Jawaharlal Nehru, schools and institutions being established in the name of him and other Indian Leaders. 

Furthermore, he drew the link between the cultural linkages the Vietnamese got with Indians which they share from the past 2000 years. He spoke of Arabic, Persian and Urdu being a part and parcel of their literature and many of their names are derived from the Indian origin. He then talks of spiritual pluralism, something that India has been holding for particularly over a long period of time and it is also something that shouldn’t be compromised at any cost and how Buddhism has been the centre of cultural diplomacy in major parts of South-east Asia.

He concluded his remarks by finally speaking about the risks that are associated with the soft power and of those risks which may harm India’s soft power in near future. He elaborated on the contemporary rise in the right-wing nationalism which could pose a threat to the very existence of soft power and suggests that it should be controlled and should be kept in check. He reiterated on the fact that India has been carrying this heritage for over thousands of years and that should always be up held and pushed forward and that is truly when India can further succeed in terms of exercising soft power.

Dr Amit Singh, Assistant Professor, ARSD College

Title: Diaspora as a Factor in India’s Soft Power

Dr Amit Singh had extensively focused on the Indian diaspora being the potential assets and not the liabilities that they are made to look like. His presentation encompassed of the idea of counter balancing Chinese hegemony over the south-east Asia and also the World. He also believed that soft power and hard power can go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive. He emphasised more on the issue of South China Sea and had urged that Vietnam should assist India and vice versa in the issue of South China Sea to balance the Chinese and their expansion. He then gives a subtle reference to the Doklam confrontation that is ongoing between China and India to shed light on imperial ambitions of the Chinese.

He formally concluded his presentation by suggesting that India should deal with their Diaspora in a way that they are most productive, giving them incentives and using them to garner more support and attraction and to not use them as liabilities.

Dr Namrata Chaturvedi, Assistant Professor, Zakir Husain Delhi College

Title: Inter-faith Dialogue: Traditions and Possibilities

Dr Namrata emphasised on the glory and revival of the long lost traditional and cultural linkages which were once the reason for two nations having the same roots. She talks about the Buddhist monks and Indian people who travelled to Vietnam, become monks and then travelled to China to spread the Buddhism. She, in her presentation, gave us insights and few examples of those people who travelled from India to Vietnam, and those of who travelled from Vietnam to India and draws the long-lost links which were the reason for having a commonality in the ritualistic traditions and philosophical traditions in the Hinduism and Buddhism.

Her presentation was mainly focused on the idea of plurality, something that is lost the moment the idea of purity comes into the place. She re-emphasised on idea of pluralism that we should essentially revive and reject the idea of purity, something that is the sole reason for the separation of us and hindered us from uniting together.

She concluded her paper finally by quoting a verse and finally drew a link between the principles of pluralism that existed in our traditions and suggested to revive the idea of soft power from them and also rediscovering the ontological principles that were present there.

Dr Ashwin Parijat, Assistant Professor, Zakir Husain Delhi College

Title: Swami Vivekanand and Thoughts on India’s Soft Power

As the last leg of the discussion, Dr Ashwin surprisingly came up with a counter narrative to the entire idea of soft power. According to him, the idea of soft power has been originated from someone with a position of privilege and is incorrect for any outsider to impose their definition onto the other nations and more importantly it is incorrect on the part of the nations to adapt to other definition of soft power other than its own.

He further elaborated his arguments by referring to Joseph Nye being an American thinker to formulate the definition of the soft power, coming from a place which has been the reason for many wars and immoral acts like Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Iraqi invasion, Afghan Invasion etc and therefore it is not legitimate to incorporate their definition of soft power. On the contrary, Dr Ashwin talks of Swami Vivekananda and reviving of the cultural traditions of our own country which has a lot of principles pertaining to soft power encrypted within themselves.

Dr Ashwin finally rested his argument by reiterating the importance of the words and speeches of Swami Vivekananda and focus on not borrowing foreign ideas but to actualize oneself with their own ideas. He then praised Vietnamese of their struggle against the American imperialism and finally suggested that one should not talk of soft power but must rather focus on the idea of eliminating inequality and distributing power within the society.

The conclusion of the event:

The session came to end with the chair, Prof. Ashok Acharya summarising briefly, all the points raised by the members of the panel and also Dr Sonu Trivedi spoke on the importance of human security challenges and public policy responses to it—a major ‘Soft Power’ strategy of the Government. Later the conclusive remarks were made by Prof. Lee Van Toan and his delegation where they expressed their gratitude to the panellists and organisers for their research inputs on this interesting topic of contemporary relevance. This was followed by Vote of Thanks by Dr Om Prakash. The session formally concluded with the exchange of souvenirs from both the sides.

Major Takeaways:

  • Hard power and soft power cannot be seen in binary and that they are not entirely mutually exclusive of each other.
  • Cultivating upon Diaspora as an asset for nation building activities.
  • Building upon communication engagement with the Diaspora.
  • Food, Culture, Cuisine, tourism, religious pluralism, spiritualism as important components of ‘Soft Power’.
  • The revival of the idea of ‘soft power’ from the ancient scriptures and also rediscovering the ontological principles highlighted in the texts.
  • Counter-narrative to the idea of ‘Soft Power’ as a Western concept and Spiritual Revivalism by engaging with the ideas of Swami Vivekanand.
  • Recommendation for the institutional tie-up with Centre for Indian Studies, Hanoi and Delhi University.
  • Proposal for a Joint Conference on India’s Soft Power to be held later this year in Hanoi.

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