Indian culture has soft power to make an influential leader: Shashi Tharoor

Washington: Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has warned against remaking India in a way that undermines its soft power, saying this quality of Indian culture has the potential to make the country truly an “influential” leader in the 21st century.

Speaking at a gathering here, Tharoor, 61, said India has to solve its “internal problems” like terrorism and poverty first before it can aspire to play the role of leadership in the world.

He said there were aspects of Indian society and culture that the world found more attractive than just government initiative. “Today those aspects may not directly persuade them about India, but they go a long way to enhance India’s standing in the world,” he said in his key note address at the ‘Cultural Diplomacy Forum on India,’ organised by the Meridian International Forum, on Thursday.

Tharoor said India is a civilisation which has offered refuge to cultural and religious freedoms to Jews, Parses, Christens and Muslims. “We have to solve our internal problems – that’s our problem, not yours – before we can truly aspire to play the role of leadership in the world.

We are in the process of doing precisely that. We want to conquer the challenge of development. Not just jihadi terrorism but the problem of hunger and poverty is also part of our problem,” Tharoor said.

“Do not try to remake India in a way that undermines your soft power,” he said. Without mentioning any events, Tharoor called for ensuring freedom of press and its thriving.

“Because our civilisational ethos has been the immeasurable asset for our country and it is bipolar. We do not allow spectre of religious intolerance and political opportunism to undermine our soft power in the 21st century,” he said.

“I think, this country with all these qualities inherited from millennia of living as an example of this sort of culture has the soft power that would truly make it the influential leader in the 21st century,” Tharoor said.

Noting that India’s soft power has a claim to the world, Tharoor said India is a country in which all major religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism – co-exists.

“In this increasingly globalised world where there is so much of backlash against immigration, India of such diversity of caste, religion, language and others rally around the democratic value of consensus.

Acceptance rather than tolerance is the Indian secret. And I think that has been the strength of India’s soft power,” Tharoor said.
“That’s why we’re stronger in 21st century world.

As a society, we have celebrated our diversity, our pluralism, our democracy, our freedom in a way that we imply to take them for granted. “Some recent trends have unfortunately given free rein to others which have promoted attitude of bigotry and intolerance that should have no place in the narrative. That is also inescapable part, sadly of today’s Indian reality,” Tharoor rued.

He said the whole question of identifying India into one particular religion and religious faith flies in the face of its own vibrant culture. “I think, it is not just the breadth but the depth of this cultural heritage that India’s soft power lies.

“The fact that we are a land of such rich diversities and one that does not impose narrow conformities…The whole thing about Indian that you can be many things and being one thing is an important lesson in a world in which we are all trying to grapple how to manage diversity,” he said.

Tharoor said it was important to resist the attempts that undermine the qualities of Indian culture. “Resist them not in purely political bipartisan spirit but rather as proud Indians because we are conscious of what we are proud of in our civilisation.

We are conscious of the qualities which are so attractive about our culture, that give us soft power in the world,” he said.

“We do not want those qualities undermined by recklessly, irresponsible often semi-educated people who have been given a free hand by those in power,” Tharoor said, adding that China and Russia have already realised that.