Buddhism, India’s soft power projection tool

Source- The post is based on the article “Buddhism, India’s soft power projection tool” published in the “The Hindu” on 9th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

News– Recently, India hosted a two-day global Buddhist summit in New Delhi. It was organised by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the International Buddhist Confederation.

Why was the summit important for India?

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, laid emphasis on the continuing relevance of the Buddha’s teachings in today’s world.

The summit was a significant opportunity for India to project and connect with the Buddhist population around the world. It will strengthen the country’s soft power.

It saw a diverse group of 171 foreign delegates from South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, and Taiwan, along with 150 delegates from Indian Buddhist organisations. It was attended by prominent scholars, sangha leaders, and dharma practitioners.

The Indian government hopes to demonstrate its commitment to preserving and promoting Buddhist culture and heritage.

What are the efforts by the Indian government to increase its soft power through Buddhist diplomacy?

The Indian government has been actively investing in its Buddhist diplomacy. There is a focus on promoting tourism through the development of the “Buddhist tourist circuit”.

Mr. Modi is visiting Buddhist sites during his Southeast and East Asian visits.

What is the potential of Buddhist diplomacy?

India is well-positioned to play a leading role in shaping the discourse around Buddhist issues on the global stage. India holds an advantage due to the faith’s origins in the country.

As per Mr. Modi, “India has not given ‘Yuddha’ to the world but ‘Buddha’.” India’s want to provide an alternative to contested global politics, with morality as the guiding principle.

India wants to position itself as a great power committed to cooperation rather than coercion. It is rooted in its deep historical and cultural ties to the region.

The current government’s guiding principles for foreign policy are Panchamrit principles. It includes “Sanskriti Evam Sabhyata”. It means cultural and civilizational links.

Buddhist diplomacy has the potential to promote regional cohesion. Nearly 97% of the global Buddhist population is based in Asia.

During the Cold War, China effectively used Buddhist diplomacy to engage with its neighbouring countries. It continues to employ this approach to gain legitimacy for its Belt and Road Initiative. 

What is the way for India to effectively utilise Buddhist diplomacy?

To maintain its edge over China, more action is needed. China is actively seeking to exert control over the appointment of the next Dalai Lama. It would be a blow to India’s efforts to project its soft power through Buddhism.

India must act to ensure that it remains a key player in the global Buddhist community.

India should continue promoting Buddhism at the highest levels of government, while also organising cultural events to showcase the country’s rich Buddhist history.

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) could play a significant role in promoting such events within and outside India.

India should work to strengthen its ties with key Buddhist institutions and leaders around the world. The Delhi summit was a step in the right direction.

India also needs to utilise the reach of Bollywood in promoting its Buddhist heritage. China, with its influence over Hollywood, has completely dominated the narrative around Buddhism through cinema. In contrast, India is behind in this domain.

India’s G-20 presidency this year could be used to promote Buddhist diplomacy on a bigger scale through various cultural meetings. Buddhist teachings align with the motto of India’s G-20 presidency, ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’.

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