Since the time ‘soft power’ was conceptualized by Joseph Nye in the 1990s, the idea has gained more traction in foreign-policy discussions across the world. In recognition of the changing nature of international relations and a turn (at least in rhetoric) towards peaceful global interaction, Nye posited that conventional hard-power tactics predicated on military might would no longer be the sole factor in determining the degree to which a nation commanded power in the international system.
India has a unique soft power that no other country in the world possess and i.e. it being the HOME OF WORLD BUDDHISM. Buddhism has contributed to its soft power in the following ways.
- Share of Cultural and Moral Values: The Buddhist faith, due to its emphasis on peaceful co-existence and its wide pan-Asian presence, lends itself well to soft-power diplomacy. Buddhism in India as a Soft Power is different from the conventional sense of the term. India talks about shared cultural development instead of export of culture. The values of peace, accommodation, inclusiveness, and compassion that are part of our societies can be attributed to the influence of the teachings of Lord Buddha and Buddhism.
- Strengthening Ties with Asian Countries: The ideals of Buddhism continue to intersect with the political and economic contexts of many Asian nations with 22% of the world’s population. Buddhism can act as an intensifying factor for Asian emotional bonding and connectivity as it is embedded into their “nationalistic” thinking and actions.
India has in its favour at the moment an abundance of resources by way of pilgrimage sites, the presence of the Dalai Lama, and international goodwill, as well as the right intentions.
- International Buddhist Conclave: The Ministry of Tourism organises Buddhist Conclave every alternate year (since 2004) with the objective of promoting India as a Buddhist Destination and major markets around the globe. In 2018, the conclave witnessed the participation of the delegates from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and 29 other countries.
- Cultural Exchange Programme with Mongolia: Under the Cultural Exchange Programme, there are 10 dedicated ICCR scholarships for studying ‘Tibetan Buddhism’ allocated for Mongolians to study in specialized institutes. The Ministry of Culture is likely to complete reprinting of about 100 sets of sacred Mongolian Kanjur (a Buddhist canonical text considered to be the most important religious text in Mongolia) for distribution in the main centers of Buddhism in Mongolia.
Steps have also been taken to facilitate the visa and travel of Buddhist monks from Mongolia within India. More recently in June 2022, four Holy Relics of Lord Buddha (Kapilavastu Relics) were taken from India to Mongolia for an 11-day exposition to coincide with Mongolian Buddha Purnima celebrations.
- Kushinagar International Airport: The Kushinagar Airport in Uttar Pradesh became the latest entrant in India’s list of international Airports. It is expected to provide seamless connectivity to people from South east and East Asian countries for Buddhist Pilgrimage Tourism.
The inauguration of Kushinagar International airport is set to be a landmark in the India-Sri Lanka relations
“The teachings of ‘Buddh’ (Lord Buddha) rather than the message of ‘yuddh’ (war) is India’s contribution to the world”, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 during his address on terrorism to United Nations General Assembly. Buddha and his teachings are precious because of their relevance to the world even 2,600 years later. His saying, “mind is the source of happiness and unhappiness” from thousands of years ago, is still considered the central mantra for inner transformation.
Buddhism has been described by experts as India’s civilizational heritage which finds place in foreign policies across the globe. As it emphasizes peaceful co-existence that most of the countries desire, the world has embraced its principles. According to Pew Research Centre, the think tank based in Washington DC, there are about 488 million worldwide followers of Buddhism which originated in India.
Thus India’s most strongest soft power in the world is indeed its rich heritage of Buddhism.