In his essay, “India’s Bollywood Power,” Shashi describes what I would call the “soft power assets” of India—its culture, film, food, etc. I agree that these assets are sometimes underappreciated and that soft power complements hard power to form what Joe Nye calls “smart power.” We also need to be mindful that India’s open society and freedoms give it a flexibility and universality that may be more appealing than what some call “authoritarian capitalism” promulgated elsewhere. As Shashi notes, a country must be able to “tell a story” but I would add that the story should be universal.
But to what end? I think the key point Shashi omitted from his otherwise excellent article is that power, of whatever type, is used to get something. Theoretically open societies possess more soft power assets, like freedom and pluralism, but they are also more receptive to outside influence (or to the soft power of others). If a country is democratic, the mood of its people will influence policy.
It seems that the State Department agrees that soft power or public diplomacy is indeed important. Still grasping for the right modality, the agency recently launched America’s website—http://www.america.gov/—tasked with, yes, telling America’s story. Its feature in focus? Innovation:
Fashion design might one day be adapted to protect the U.S. Army thanks to innovative work by a Cornell University student that has caught the eye of military scientists. The garments use silver nanoparticles in 2007 to eliminate health threats from microbes and palladium nanoparticles to reduce the effects of air pollutants.
(Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai as seen in Dil Ka Rishta. Photo by Horst-Mirjam von Linotype (CC).)