LG. Manoj Sinha Craves for Soft Power

The quality of higher education is an integral part of the soft power of a country as it helps in attracting young people from different parts of the world
LG Manoj Sinha
LG Manoj SinhaFile: @OfficeOfLGJandK/Twitter

The Lt. Governor Mr. Manoj Sinha on December 20, 2022, presided over two events at Jammu and emphasized  the significance of soft power in the globalizing world. Declaring Inter-university Fencing (Men & Women) Championship open Mr. Sinha observed: “Sports as soft power have an important role in bringing regions, nations and diverse cultures together.

As social enterprise sports give paramount importance to equality and economic development that benefits the entire community”. While chairing a meeting on preparations for the G20 summit, Mr. Sinha underlined how G20 meetings can help showcase the cultural heritage of the region.

Verily, in case of Kashmir showcasing soft power by the state and other institutions of civil society is of  great  significance as the region over decades has seen excessive use of hard power of the state and non-state actors.

Additionally the toolkit of soft power needs to be expanded  to create an enabling environment in Kashmir. Be it noted the quality of higher education  is an integral part of the soft power of a country as it helps in attracting young people from different parts of the world thereby enhancing the power of attraction.

Soft Power

The celebrated political Scientist Joseph Nye put forward the concept of “soft power” in his much-acclaimed book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. The core idea is “not to force someone to do something you want him to do but to make him want what you want him to do”. Further soft power also means shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. In International Relations (IR) this is moving from coercion to cooption. It is in one sense winning hearts and minds and persuading others to do what you want without force or coercion. Joseph Nye’s soft power flows from culture, political values, and foreign policies. This, over the years, extended to the natural beauty, architecture, business, sports etc . If culture is a crucial ingredient and cinema a powerful vehicle for spreading awareness about a country’s culture it in turn becomes a crucial tool for a country’s soft power. The immediate context for LG Mr. Sinha seems to be the preparations underway for holding different meetings related to G20.  India has defined its presidency of G20 with a dose  of optimism and according to former diplomat Vivek Katju with “a dash of philosophical idealism”.

The G20 Context

The commentariat and policy community are busy in understanding the  importance of G20  for India which at one time was looked as the  third world leader. In globalizing world foreign policy is more than foreign. The distinction between domestic and international is less meaningful in a contemporary global order. The defining objective of the foreign policy of a country is to promote the security and welfare of its own citizens. We need a world that leads to more partnerships and no partitions, more handholding, and no hate. The Indian foreign minister Dr. Jaishankar recently stated that India can play a “stabilizing and bridging” role at a time when the world no longer offers an optimistic picture. He stated that India can contribute towards the “de-risking” of the global economy and to  “depolarize” the world. The Indian presidency of G20 some hope can lead to “healing, harmony and hope” in the fractured world. This may be  high thinking but it is something the world cannot ignore and Indian leadership cannot sidetrack. Former minister and congress leader Shashi Tharoor recently clarified that  his book Pax Indica: India and the world in the 21st century  doesn’t  argue for world domination which in any case  is not  possible but India’s role in shaping the emerging global network which would define the international relations and world politics in the twenty-first century. On the right side of the ideological spectrum, Mr. Ram Madhav of RSS feels that PM Modi emphasizing “peace, harmony and security” as the agenda for G20 is a good start. In a way the PM has already left his imprint on the Ukraine earlier that it was not the time for war, a line that became part of  Bali declaration. Happily, the Bali summit of G20 provides international hope for  the initiation of Religion, 20 which is a unique  addition of soft power to international relations and diplomacy. The R20 too will shift to India from Indonesia.

Hosting R 20 Summit

India is also hosting the R20 second summit in 2023 in line with the G20 framework. The basic objective of R20 is to build a God-centric value system in place of a Religion-centric system. Two organizations viz, Nahdlatul  Ulama of Indonesia and the Muslim World League of Saudi Arabia have launched  Religion 20 to facilitate the emergence of a global movement in which people of goodwill of every faith and nation will help bring the world’s geopolitical and economic power structures into alignment with the highest moral and spiritual values for the sake of  humanity”. It is definitely laudable that PM Modi described India as the holy land of “Buddha and Gandhi” and wanted the next summit of G20 in India as a harbinger of peace in the world. The Muslim world Leagues top officials believe that the R20 summit in India will help in disseminating the message of religious harmony to the world.

In this context  it is apt to examine the potential of soft power available in Kashmir which has caught the attention of Mr. Sinha. There is tremendous infrastructure of soft power available in Kashmir that can be improved and employed for the good of common people  more particularly  youth who see darkness on all sides.

 First, as Mr.  Sinha has rightly stated that there is a need for a sustainable sports movement in Kashmir to tap the talent of the youth so that they learn discipline, balance, speed, and self-confidence. Sports have assumed significance in an interconnected world and the new education policy has provided an impetus to it as it intends to promote the holistic development of the individual. Kashmir has a long history of sports and in recent times martial arts among school-going children has  assumed a lot of visibility. Many of my students working on South Asia are familiar with “cricket diplomacy” as an instrument of conflict management. Sports have a healing power and can connect people and cultures. The great Nelson Mandela used to say that “sports has power to change the world. It can unite the world. It creates hope in places where there is despair. It is stronger than governments in bringing down racial barriers”. The union government too has over the years improved sports infrastructure by establishing the first National Sports university in Manipur.

 Second, the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir can also be showcased as soft power having phenomenal attraction. In his magisterial book The wonder that was India, the celebrated British cultural historian  A.L. Basham recounts an interesting episode: “According to the 11th-century Persian poet Firdusi, who collected many legends and traditions of pre-Muslim Persia in his Shahnameh (Book of Kings) Basham writes,”the 5th century {AD}  Sasanian king Bahram Gur invited 10,000 Indian musicians to his realm and gave them cattle, corn and assess so that they might settle in the land to entertain his poorer subjects who had been complaining that the pleasures of music and dance were reserved for the rich”. The beauty of Kashmiri culture is best captured and represented among the lower sections of society who retain it from art, architecture, language, fairs, festivals, rites, and rituals.

About Kashmir culture historian GMD Sufi writes “the cult of Buddha, the teachings of Vedanta, and the mysticism of Islam through Persian sources have one after another found a congenial home in Kashmir”. The influence and imprint of central Asian and Persian culture on Kashmir has  given Kashmiri culture the resources to connect cultures, people, and countries in South and Central Asia. Due to tourism and hill mentality, people are quite hospitable making their culture a source of soft power.

Role of  Kashmir University

Many Indian diplomats  in the USA have from time to time recommended to  the government of India to institute a regime of scholarships in leading American universities to help produce a global generation of future policy-makers who can be more sympathetic to India and can work in accordance with the Indian interests.

The University of Kashmir as the oldest institution has played a pivotal role in the generation of soft power. A great number of students from Middle East joined the erstwhile Regional Engineering College Srinagar (affiliated to Kashmir University) and completed their education.

Many of them have risen high in their countries and have good memories of their stay in Kashmir. During ( 2013-2016)  almost eighteen scholars from different South Asian countries viz, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal studied  at the Institute of Kashmir studies university of Kashmir and successfully completed  their  education in Kashmir.

They are ambassadors of Kashmir in their countries. Apart from this, students from almost all states/union territories in India have either on a part-time or full-time basis worked in Kashmir University and enjoyed local hospitality. Till recently the acting British High commissioner in India happened to be a student at Kashmir University and stayed in its  Shiekh-Ul-Alam Boys hostel.

There is a wide body of opinion that supports the view that the university of Kashmir be placed in the category of   “Institutions of Eminence” so that it can play its legitimate role. The university on its part has to produce an attractive profile and promote the local culture effectively. The university needs to increase its internal assets and improve its infrastructure viz, swimming pool, golf club, and courses in different languages to play a more contributory role in the national and regional arena.

Prof Wani is Kashmir based Political Scientist

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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