Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, indianweekender.co.nz
[T]he New Zealand India Research Institute held its Third International Conference in Wellington on 25-26 August. Over two days, twelve academic experts from across the world critically addressed those issues, facilitating our understanding of ‘India as a global power in the twenty-first century’. ...
In the main session of the conference, Professor Ian Hall of Griffith University, in his keynote speech, spoke on the recent shifts in Indian foreign policy under Narendra Modi. Having reinvigorated India’s so-called ‘soft power’, Modi is developing a new cultural agenda in Indian public diplomacy. His success in securing United Nations’ agreement for an International Yoga Day is one aspect of this agenda, which builds upon earlier attempts by Indian Prime Ministers to make India a ‘normative power’ in world politics. However, it still needs to be seen how this strategy based on insistence on the excellence of India’s ancient civilization will ultimately help India establish her status as a real global power.
The use of ‘soft-power’ and social media in diplomacy as well as domestic politics in recent years by the Modi government has been a major focus of a number of papers at the conference. Ronojoy Sen of the National University of Singapore showed how Modi used various cultural symbols and social media in his election campaign. Parama Palit, also from Singapore, analyzed how similar symbols have been effectively used to connect to the Indian Diaspora during Modi’s foreign visits. However, the question is, while these cultural agendas have been able to strike a chord with the Diasporas, have they been able to change global perceptions about India? And here the empirical research conducted in Southeast Asia by Adrian Athique of the University of Waikato shows that among the general public of this region India is still largely stuck with the image of a poor third world country. In other words, more needs to be done beyond the use of ‘soft-power’.