It is backed by wherewithal including economic power, military prowess, formal and informal alliances etc.


Bill Clinton administration staffer Joseph Nye is credited with galvanizing public attention by coining the term “soft power” in the pages of Foreign Policy. It became a defining feature of the post Cold War era.

Americana was seen as an aspirational magnet. People in many countries wanted to be a liberal democracy like the United States. But, as always, the turn of the 20th century President, Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum of “speak softly and carry a big stick” underpins both the limits of, and the animating engines, of soft power.

Soft power is broadly described as the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce. Gandhian ahimsa and non-violence ruled modern Indian political ideology for decades, even as it was always a matter of opinion if it actually got India its independence from Britain. Hard power was regarded, in Nye’s time, in the late 1980s and 1990s, as an enumeration of military muscle—missiles, warheads, tanks, aircraft, submarines, ships, troops and the like. But in 2019, with a greater number of nuclear armed powers, and an array of new small and large hard powers such as North Korea, India, Pakistan, Israel, and emerging ones like Iran and Japan, it may well represent a shift in tonality and economic heft that denotes greater resolve and confidence. Nuclear war, after all, is a zero sum game.

India’s emerging hard power is backed by wherewithal including economic power, markets, military prowess, intelligence gathering, formal and informal alliances, and tacit support amongst other countries.

Of course, a leading feature of soft power, used extensively in foreign affairs generally, is persuasion. And this has been ramped up from the very start of Modi 1.0 to an unprecedented degree. The main feature of this was and continues to be bilateral state visits by the Prime Minister. Over 100 nations have been covered, some after decades or for the very first time, with excellent results.

But the tone domestically, in matters small and large, and in India’s more transactional national self interest in dealings with other countries, has undergone a sea change. National icons Sardar Patel, Veer Savarkar, Subhas Bose, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, A.B. Vajpayee, some long neglected, have replaced Nehru and the perfunctory genuflection towards Mahatma Gandhi.

There is also a marked quickening of the pace. And this difference isn’t being reflected just via the actions and pronouncements of the Prime Minister and Home Minister. It is seen on a broader basis across the government and the NDA, and inclusive of Mohan Bhagwat in the RSS amongst others. The call for population control that the Prime Minister put on Independence Day, has emanated from the RSS.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath banned the performing of namaz on Lucknow and UP roads. The Union Urban Affairs Ministry has asked 220 ex MPs to move out of their Lutyens’ Zone bungalows and other government accommodation within seven days or have their electricity and water cut off.

Former Finance and Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who went underground and was shamelessly on the run from the CBI and ED, with a Lookout Notice issued against him, has been arrested for custodial interrogation. This high profile set of six cases against Chidambaram is a showcase of the law being applied to the high and mighty.

Additionally, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s nephew and Executive Director of Moser Baer, Ratul Puri, accused of bribe-taking and money laundering, has, in fact, been arrested for similar custodial interrogation.

The Congress party, predictably, is in panic because a number of other notable leaders could be next.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh hinted at a shift from India’s No First Use Nuclear Weapons Doctrine, echoing former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s views on the subject, and setting the cat amongst the pigeons in a sabre-rattling Pakistan. He also said that if there is to be Kashmir talks with Pakistan (only once cross-border terror stops), it will be about the illegally occupied PoK henceforth.

The only senior Cabinet minister to strike a discordant note from this picture of greater strength and optimism is Finance Minister Sitharaman. She has made a spate of socialist and anti growth remarks and tabled a weak budget that has hurt business and investor sentiment, resulting in capital flight. And this has been done, most insensitively, in the face of a sharp downturn.

But, since the Prime Minister knows that India’s hard power depends quite substantially on its economic growth, he made it clear, by reiterating from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August that he intends to grow the Indian economy into $5 trillion by 2024. The government has begun to flesh out this intent with rollbacks and stimulants but clearly much more needs to be done. The Prime Minister’s task forces are hard at work to suggest remedies for various distressed sectors. Given popularity ratings of around 70% after the end of Articles 370 and 35A, on par with his ratings in 2014, Narendra Modi is both trusted and widely believed.

The Triple Talaq Bill was turned into a proclaimed Act on the third determined try, with the NDA driving a very effective wedge through the non-government benches in the Rajya Sabha.

The historic abrogation of Article 370 and 35A was introduced first in the Rajya Sabha by the Home Minister himself. Before that, Amit Shah and NSA Ajit Doval cleared out all Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, other tourists and foreigners from the Kashmir Valley. The nullification of all the operative sections, was passed first in the Rajya Sabha, where the government does not yet have a majority. Copious debates were held in both Houses over two days, before J&K became one of two new Union Territories.

That this seminal matter hanging fire for 72 years was tackled so early in Modi 2.0, suggests that a number of other long pending agenda issues, such as the Uniform Civil Code and the construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, could also see the light of day soon.

There is a matter-of-fact shift in the way things are done too. While Jammu and the separate UT of Ladakh welcomed the new status, Section 144 was clamped on large sections of the valley. In addition, a communications embargo was imposed, and politicians likely to incite violence were put under house arrest or preventive detention. Others, such as irate Congress and CPM politicians, were not allowed to enter the valley, even if they turned up uninvited at Srinagar airport.

In a sharp departure from the past, there is no government attempt to endear itself with sections of the populace in the valley who may be disgruntled, and no reference to the winning of hearts and minds. It is law and order first and justice for the people of India as a whole.

A Delimitation Commission has already been appointed by the EC to go into more effective representation of the people in both Jammu and Kashmir sections of the Union Territory. This is likely to result in equal representation for both Jammu and Kashmir and should be completed in about six weeks.

Externally, Pakistan was stymied at the UNSC despite backing from all-weather ally China, and an opportunistic Britain. Thirteen of the 15 UNSC members including the current Chair, saw the developments in J&K and Ladakh as an internal matter because of India’s extensive diplomatic groundwork. That China, which is in illegal occupation of Indian territory at Akshai Chin and is facing strong protests for its centrist policies in Hong Kong, should accuse India of unilateralism, is ironic. And Britain is facing pressures to its unity from both Scotland and Northern Ireland because of its pursuit of Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit. That it should have the temerity to comment on India at the UNSC, is probably a throwback to imperialist envy.

Pakistan’s latest plan to take the matter of alleged human rights abuses in Kashmir to the ICJ is not likely to meet with any appreciable success either.

In a military caution, Pakistan and China are unhesitatingly being told that any interference or adventurism will meet with an appropriate response.

Our attitudes to democratic protest and dissent have changed too. The government can name and punish terrorists now. The Opposition is now only being offered the respect its electoral fortunes and representation deserve. The contours of Modi’s New India are gaining definition.