The first problem with regard to Soft Power is that it is a very broad concept and means different things to different people. It is important to not be obsessed with one aspect of soft power and ignore the others. In a country with diverse opinions, different individuals are likely to have different notions of ‘Soft Power’ 17. Should the focus be on cultural dimension of soft power, or promotion of Democracy?
Second, diversity is India’s main strength and there have been efforts by fringe elements in India to promote majoritarianism and an exclusivist identity. If such elements are not kept in check it will be detrimental to India’s efforts at utilising Soft Power.
C. Rajamohan rightly argues 18: “Modi’s efforts at projecting soft power, however, are likely to come to nought if the government continues to allow a free run to groups that seek to anchor India’s rich cultural inheritance on a narrow and religious basis and infect India’s democratic culture with the virus of majoritarianism.”
Third, for the effective promotion of Soft Power, financial resources are needed and so is it important to play to one’s strengths. Unfortunately, the Indian approach falls short on both counts. Indeed, recently, the Ministry of External Affairs complained about the Ministry of Finance reducing the funds allocated for promotion of Indian soft power 19.
Lack of a clear strategy is also visible in the government’s failure to use its own communication tools. For instance, China Central Television (CCTV) is spread across all regions and Indian private channels like Sony and Zee are available in Africa, South East Asia, Middle East and Central Asia. As against this, India’s government channel, Doordarshan has been unable to internationalise itself 20.
Fourth, while successive leaders, including Prime Minister Modi, have referred to India’s democratic credentials and sought to build commonalities with democratic countries, a counter point has been made that India has not sufficiently highlighted the successes it has achieved in the sphere of democracy. Rohan Mukherjee (2014:55) argues: “On the one hand, India is the second largest contributor to the US-led UN Democracy Fund for the promotion of democracy around the world; on the other, it continually reiterates its unwillingness to become an exporter of democracy, i.e. to externalize its domestic political values 21.”
Finally, while India is trying to attract more foreign students, many of them are reluctant to take the offer due to apprehensions with regard to law and order, and safety of women. The recent murder of an African national and subsequent attacks on African students sent a wrong message internationally.
In conclusion, soft power can undoubtedly play an important role in generating goodwill. However, India’s use of soft power has been hampered by key limitations such as paucity of resources, especially in comparison to countries like China, and the lack of a clear strategy due to internal contradictions. Besides, soft power by itself will not suffice in the absence of palpable economic and hard power. For instance, South East Asia and Africa may have strong strategic convergences with India, and yet it is China’s economic prowess that gives it the decisive edge.