Soft Power And How To Use It
The word ‘Soft Power’ is although not coined me but by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in 1990 yet I am advocating it since last three decades on various forums besides various national and international seminars through dialogues and exchange of ideas. I may not be knowing and using the term ‘soft power’, but I had always emphasized on the cultural and literary exchange through people’s diplomacy. President Ho Chi Minh is my inspiration for this thought of line. I don’t deny the importance of arms and money power that is hard power but I am firm that these two powers (arms and money)are definitely destructive and prompt to divide and rule the nations and also try to grab the sovereignty of other nations. Soft power, however, through literature and culture penetrates deep down the hearts of the people and leaves an everlasting impact. Throughout Vietnam’s history, cultural diplomacy has been used effectively in dealing with conflicts and establishing the long-standing friendship with other countries.
I remember that between 1945 and 1975 the brutal warfares had reduced Vietnam to ruins and devastation, yet President Ho Chi Minh preferred to use the soft power of culture and dialogue with U.S., France, and other countries and it received strong support from the people of various nations. Although the war was decisively won by the people of Vietnam under the leadership of President Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Party of Vietnam but the people’s support from all over the world, particularly from USA, France provided great moral support to Vietnam to come out victorious in the war.
I specify one example of my city Calcutta when the emotional bonding with Vietnam prompted a poet to coin a very appealing slogan- “ Amar Nam, Tomar Nam, Vietnam Vietnam” _ which means ‘My name Vietnam, Your name Vietnam’ and within no time it became to most popular slogan and people identified themselves with Vietnam. In fact the people of Calcutta and then undivided Bengal had expressed their Solidarity and support towards the liberation war of Vietnam. It reminds me of January 1974 (India got Independence in August 1947) when thousands of students and youths of Calcutta University demonstrated on the streets in from of the Calcutta University in support of Vietnam and then British Police had to resort to lathi-charge and open fire to disperse the students’ assembly. Two students were killed on the spot in police firing while around twenty-one more received bullet injuries. Yet the people did not lose heart and on the contrary became far more determined to fight for the cause. After India attained independence, the people of India, particularly the people of Calcutta did not only support the Liberation War of Vietnam spiritually and morally but materially as well. All the political parties of India, irrespective of their political ideology supported Vietnamese patriots without any exception.
Presently some expansionist forces are utilizing arms and money power to win over the support of the governments rather than people. Ironically, they are utilizing the soft power of culture to win the hearts people, although they have measurably failed till now.
The literature and culture of not only of south Asian Countries but that of Southeast Asian countries as well is enormously identical. Unfortunately, however, the Southeast Asian countries and to the certain extent the South Asian Countries are almost ignorant about it possibly due to the dearth of translation of each other’s literary works.
I am happy to learn that around hundred or even more titles of Indian literary pieces translated into Vietnamese language including about seventeen tiles of Nobel Laureate Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore are available in Vietnam while I regret to say that the National Book Trust, a prime institution of Government of India has published the translations of only one collection of Vietnamese short stories, and the too a few years back. I am also happy to learn that the Centre of Indian Studies in Hanoi, Vietnam has translated many important Indian literary works in the Vietnamese language from Indian languages including English and it includes one of my books titled ‘Vietnam Liberation War: role of Calcutta”. The Centre also organizes from time to time certain Seminars and workshops that boost the people’s diplomacy between the Asian Countries, particularly between India and Vietnam and object of which is to promote peace, friendship and development.
I believe, Buddhism is the strongest binding force not only between Indi and Vietnam but between India and Southeast Asia as well besides Japan and South Korea. Although Buddhism is on the decline in India yet it may still be used as an effective and strong soft power.
Buddhism is one religion that preaches love and compassion. Buddha said – “ Doubt on everything. Be your own light. Judge things as per your conscience.”
I still remember the legendary Foreign Minister of Vietnam Madam Nguyen Thi Binh, with whom I had the opportunity of having two meetings, one in Kolkata and another in Hanoi in Vietnam. She had been a great negotiator still in whichever she visited she used her soft power and interacted with the intellectuals, artists, poets, writers, social activists and of course with people in politics to win over the support for the liberation war in Vietnam. She achieved the goal of molding the opinion of the people all over the world particularly the US and France, towards the cause of Vietnam.
Even President Ho Chi Minh rightly used to say that the people’s diplomacy was the second front of the war that must also be won.
India had utilized its soft power in the early eighties when the Government of India had deputed hundreds of its agronomists from Rurkee and other places in India to impart training to Vietnamese agriculturists regarding the ways and means to grow more food grains. In return they received tremendous goodwill of the common people of Vietnam and earned appreciation for the Indian gesture.
So far as the agriculture id concerned, Vietnam today is far ahead of India. Presently the Vietnamese are utilizing the agricultural soft power in Cuba.
The complex world of today is almost different from the old one. The youth all over the world, including those of India and Vietnam, are becoming more and more self-centered for personal gains and interest and that too at a much greater pace. Although it is comparatively lesser in Vietnam but the hard fact remains that the people of Vietnam but the hard fact remains that the people of Vietnam are also deviating from the path of International Solidarity and patriotism. In fact the present era is being termed as ‘Post-truth era’ when falsehood prevails over truth. However, I am still firm that the people would be the ultimate winner.
Patriotism and narrow nationalism are just opposite to each other. Patriotism teaches love for the nation and its people and of course solidarity with humanity for peace, friendship and development.
I sincerely believe Indis and Vietnam may take lead in stabilizing peace in Asia besides respecting the sovereignty of each and every country irrespective of their sizes to combat any brand of the hegemonic and expansionist design of any force to destabilize the region for its own interest.
Artists, intellectuals, poets, writers and social activists of grass-root level should come forward on international agenda of peace, stability and development. I am aware, it is easy to say but hard to accomplish.
The ideas and thoughts of the great men of both our countries, India and Vietnam, e.g. Buddha, Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ho Chi Minh, are the source of great strength to us.
I believe, the social media and people’s diplomacy may also play a decisive role. What we need today is the determination and dedication to serve the cause of humanity with new technique and technology. We should promote on the war footing the exchanges of culture and literature to combat the money and arms power.
I have closely watched and it is an irony that political relations between India and Vietnam are at par excellence but despite the signing of various MOUs between the leaders of two countries, we are lagging behind in the implementation of the same.
I have certain suggestions to offer as under –
- Vietnam should open a Vietnam Centre in India preferably in Kolkata because the people and intellectuals of this city are emotionally very close to Vietnam. It is not only the gateway to East and North East India but that of Southeast Asia.
- There should be exchange delegations of youth who will reside with the families, that would lead to a better and ground level understanding between the two peoples.
- There is no Vietnamese artefacts or its replica in any of the museums in India although Vietnam has the biggest treasure of artefacts relating between 4th and 15th Century. Though we in India have many artefacts from Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar etc. We had pursued the matter years back to the biggest and oldest museum in India in Kolkata and the authorities had principally agreed but there was no response from Vietnamese side.
India and Vietnam both have the richest cultural heritage and identical too. Whether it be folklore, folk dances or contemporary literature. This aspect is almost untouched. Both the countries jointly take proactive initiatives giving priority to create the atmosphere of peace, love, friendship and mutual understanding. It will automatically recharge the process of development not only in India and Vietnam but also in the Asian region as a whole. If we use this utilizing soft power, it may be a significant game changer.