In the information age, as Joseph Nye, the guru of soft power, argues, it is not the side with the bigger army, but the side with the better story, that wins. Given its thriving pluralist democracy, India’s greatest prospects for winning admiration in the twenty-first century may lie not in what it does, but simply in what it is.
The world has heard much about India’s extraordinary transformation in recent years, and even of its claims to a share of “world leadership.“ Some of that is hyperbole, but in one respect, India’s strength may be understated.
What makes a country a world leader? Is it population, military strength, or economic development? By all of these measures, India has made extraordinary strides. It is on course to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2034, it has the world’s fourth-largest army and nuclear weapons, and it is already the world’s fifth-largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity and continues to climb, though too many of its people remain destitute.
All of these indicators are commonly used to judge a country’s global status. However, something much less tangible, but a good deal more valuable in the twenty-first century, may be more important than any of them: India’s “soft power.”
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