Buddhism and India’s Soft Power Diplomacy


    In Context

    • The government adopted the Panchamrit principles to guide its foreign policy, in actively promoting India’s image as a rising global power. 
      • The fifth of these five principles is sanskriti evam sabhyata (cultural and civilisational links).

    More about the soft power diplomacy 

    • Meaning:
      • Soft power is the capacity to influence other nations through the use of persuasion and attraction rather than coercion or force. Soft power relies on culture, arts, and science. 
    • Proponent:
      • Joseph Nye was the first to coin the term “soft power”. 

    India’s Soft Power tools

    • Beginning Post independence:
      • From the time of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Panchsheel principles, India has been guided by the ideals of peaceful co-existence.
      • The foreign policies of India have always been based on the objectives of dialogue, peace, and building national and global agreements.
        • It opts to predict better synergies with nations that have mutual goals such as safeguarding civil treaties, and regulations, promoting global peace, combating terrorism and political violence, and developing the fundamental foundations of a peaceful and prosperous world.
    • Art & culture:
      • India makes a lot of movies, music, books, and other forms of art that are enjoyed all over the world. This has increased India’s cultural influence in a big way. 
    • Yoga:
      • India has also been using yoga diplomacy as a tool for cultural exchange and international cooperation. The flagship activity is International Yoga Day.
    • Sciences, spirituality & faith:
      • Sciences, spirituality, art and faith that developed over millennia in the subcontinent found their way across other regions, earning India a considerable amount of ‘soft power’ long before the term itself was coined.
      • Owing to this, present-day India is well poised to draw upon religious and faith-based associations with countries across the globe.
    • Religions:
      • The Indian subcontinent has given birth to a number of major religions in the world and over time has assimilated into its social fabric numerous others. 
      • One of the more novel manifestations of these initiatives has been engagement in Buddhist diplomacy.

    India’s soft power diplomacy through Buddhism

    • Significance of Buddhism:
      • Revival & international value:
        • Buddhism’s potential utility in foreign policy is derived to a large extent from the manner in which the faith was revived in the aftermath of the Second World War
        • The revival of the faith had a decidedly internationalist outlook to it, and focused on transgressing extant sectarian and geographical boundaries. 
      • Pan-Asian presence:
        • Today, 97 percent of the world’s Buddhist population lives in the Asian continent, and a number of countries such as Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka conceive of Buddhism as intrinsic to their national values and identity.
        • The Buddhist faith, due to its emphasis on peaceful co-existence and its wide pan-Asian presence, lends itself well to soft-power diplomacy. 
    • The beginning:
      • In 1952, under the prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru, India hosted the International Buddhist Conference in Sanchi which was attended by over 3,000 Buddhist nuns, monks, and historians. 
      • At that time, this was one of the largest gatherings of Buddhist preachers and followers in the world.
    • The current scenario:
      • Diplomacy:
        • In speeches made on official international visits such as to Sri Lanka and China, among others, India’s Prime Minister has made a conscious effort to emphasise shared Buddhist heritage
        • Additionally, on trips to foreign countries, the prime minister reserves one day for visits to Buddhist temples wherever possible.
      • Tourism:
        • India is currently home to seven of the eight most significant Buddhist sites in the world.
        • the Ministry of Tourism is promoting a number of tourist circuits that transgress national borders.
          • The holy places of Buddhism, where Lord Buddha was born and He taught, preached, and attained ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Nirvana’, are termed as Buddhist Circuit.

    • Organization of international conferences:
      • International conferences have been organised and councils convened that facilitated interaction between members across sectarian and national boundaries. 
      • ‘Buddhism in the 21st Century’ conference that took place at Rajgir in 2017. 
      • In October 2016, the ‘5th International Buddhist Conclave’ was organised in Varanasi by the Ministry of Tourism
      • In 2015, the ‘Hindu-Buddhist Initiative on Conflict Avoidance’ was organised by the Vivekananda International Foundation and the Tokyo Foundation in Bodh Gaya, and inaugurated by Prime Minister himself.
    • Nalanda University:
      • The most important project in the domain of academia to have been undertaken is that of Nalanda University.
      • The launch of the university was a pan-Asian initiative that was funded by numerous countries.
    • Challenges:
      • As in most other areas of political significance, India has found competition from China in the realm of Buddhist diplomacy. 
      • The most prominent manifestation of India and China’s rivalry in the sphere of Buddhist diplomacy relates to the issue of the Dalai Lama.
        • The presence of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamshala in North India has been a source of contention between India & China.

    India’s Diplomacy through other religions

    • Examples of religious associations being used to augment foreign policy are not restricted to Buddhism. 
    • Judaism:
      • Around the time of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel in July 2017, observers made constant references to India’s history with Judaism and its reputation for being a safe haven for Jews at a time of their prosecution in their native lands.
    • Islam:
      • With respect to Islam, India has sought membership to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the grounds that it has the second-largest Muslim population in the world.

    Suggestions & way ahead

    • What India has in its favour at the moment is an abundance of resources by way of pilgrimage sites, the presence of the Dalai Lama, and international goodwill, as well as the right intentions
    • Explore the unexplored Buddhist schools of thought:
      • In terms of initiatives on the international level, the government must also ensure that it does not direct its efforts solely at Tibetan Buddhism, and make directed attempts at promoting connections with other Buddhist schools of thought such as Nagarjuna Buddhism, which largely remains unexplored in academic study.
    • Effective implementation of the Nalanda University project:
      • The effective revitalisation of the Nalanda University project and encouragement of Buddhist studies in well-established universities across the country must take place.
    • Buddhist Circuit Project:
      • In addition to the advertisement, proper management of tourist sites is a must for the effective valuation of the Buddhist Circuit Project. 


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What are the key elements of India’s soft power diplomacy through Buddhism? What is its significance & challenges? Analyse.