Circle Inspector Yendluru Shyam Sundar of the Andhra Pradesh Police was recently caught on camera saluting his daughter Yendluru Jessy Prasanthi who is a Deputy Superintendent also in the AP state police force. Jessy Prasanthi joined the police force a little over two years ago. The father and daughter met at a police function and in keeping with police tradition Sundar saluted his daughter who is senior to him in the force; she saluted him back. The photograph beautifully captures the happiness and pride of the father and the shy smile of the daughter.
Over the past few decades there have been cases of fathers and sons’ duos in the country’s armed forces with the latter senior to the former. There have also been numerous instances of boys and girls from less affluent backgrounds successfully competing in UPSC examinations to become officers in the senior cadres of the civil service. All these illustrate the current social mobility in the country; but perhaps nothing could so dramatically demonstrate the enormous social transformation that is currently taking place in India as the Sundar and Jessy photograph. Who could have imagined some decades ago that in a conservative country, men who did not belong to elite sections of society would encourage their daughters to seek jobs superior to theirs in their own organisations? True, the culmination of the social change which will make Sundar-Jessy case routine is still a long way away but Indian society is rapidly changing. This process should be encouraged and celebrated. Beti padhao beti bachao should not merely be a slogan but given active content through both governmental and non-governmental programmes.
Importantly, the Sundar-Jessy example can and must be used also as an aspect of India’s soft power. This thought may appear strange for soft power in the Indian context has been showcased, especially in recent years, in terms of the achievements of Indian civilization through the millennia. There is no doubt that there is much to legitimately project in that aspect. Indian achievements since ancient times in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, logic and linguistics, philosophy and literature among other branches of knowledge were great and enduring. They show the heights that Indian civilization achieved and are a source of inspiration to many sections of international opinion. These must be suitably reflected in our external engagements.
In this context Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative, soon after he assumed office, to get the United Nations to accept the promotion of yoga as an important means to secure humankind’s well-being was significant. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2014 Modi proposed that one day in a year should be designated as an international yoga day. India introduced a resolution for this purpose later that year which was endorsed by 175 countries. The UNGA decided that June 21st will be celebrated as the international yoga day. Since 2015 Indian Missions abroad actively promote the yoga day by organising events. These are useful initiatives to project India’s soft power. By now yoga has gained popularity in many parts of the world and this ancient way of securing holistic health in individuals irrespective of age is evolving through the contribution of yoga scholars and enthusiasts the world over.
A constant reminder of India’s soft power is its achievements in architecture in the medieval period of our history. The crowning glory of these endeavours is the Taj Mahal. It is a glorious example of the intermingling of architectural traditions. It is this synthesis which is the hall mark of Indian culture and it is this that should be projected as the Indian way to a world which is being splintered in numerous shards like broken glass. Thus, the Taj Mahal represents not only the attainment of perfect harmony in marble and mortar but also serenity through inclusiveness. This represents the way of life that lies at the core of the Indian aspiration even amidst great turbulence and violence. And this is the message that the world needs at this time.
A permanent theme for Indian soft power projection lies in Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violent struggle. For Gandhiji non-violence was both a means of individual and collective self-purification as it was a supreme means of correcting social and political wrongs. In the latter aspect it roused righteous consciousness both in the victim to struggle as in the perpetrator to give up his persecution, exploitation and even violence. The process was neither easy nor quick but its efficacy has been shown in difficult situations. No wonder it attracted social and political reformers like Martin Luther King who brought about deep and permanent change.
Amidst all its difficulties the Indian journey since independence carries a message of hope that societies which have been chained by centuries of iniquitous orthodoxies can change rapidly and that the state can be an agent of not only deep but fundamental social change. This process began slowly but was encouraged by courageous legislation such as that relating to Hindu marriages and inheritance. It was also seen in laws relating to promote the rights of the marginalised and exploited social groups. These laws in their totality led to the empowerment of women and the weaker sections of Indian society. This process is still on but its message is of global relevance and it is powerful. In this also lies Indian soft power and the father-daughter duo of Sundar and Jessy illustrates it so well.