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Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on his state visit to the United States from June 21 to 24, 2023, responding to an invitation extended by President Joe Biden. This state visit is distinguished by its ceremonial and symbolic significance and provides a unique opportunity for India to leverage its soft power resources. With its rich cultural tapestry and diverse range of assets, India has much to offer on the global stage, ensuring that this visit will be about more than just formal diplomacy.

Despite hard power dominating geopolitics, PM Modi’s focus on simple gestures and Indian culture offers an alternative to fostering bilateral relationships through the power of soft diplomacy. This distinctive approach showcases to the world how the art of diplomacy can be elevated by drawing upon a nation’s inherent values, traditions, and cultural assets. 

Yoga, an integral component of India’s soft power, has garnered widespread acclaim worldwide, notably in the United States, which houses over 48,000 yoga studios. The brainchild of PM Narendra Modi, the initiative to designate June 21 as International Yoga Day, commenced in 2015. It has rapidly gained momentum ever since. Within the prevailing political climate, rallying 180 nations towards a common cause poses a formidable challenge. Nevertheless, India’s remarkable success in accomplishing this feat underscores its pivotal role in fostering global unity. The United Nations, an unparalleled stage for international collaboration, serves as an ideal forum to showcase India’s remarkable achievements. India accomplished this feat on June 21st in New York, setting a record by collectively practising Yoga. PM Modi’s participation conveyed a strong message of unity to the world.

Gastrodiplomacy plays a significant role in India’s soft power strategy. Indian cuisine has become a conduit for promoting Indian culture, fostering connections, and creating goodwill. Notably, India’s proposal to the United Nations to recognise 2023 as the International Year of Millets was accepted. In light of this, two restaurants in the United States have taken innovative steps to showcase India’s culinary prowess, coinciding with the visit of Prime Minister Modi. A New York-based Indian restaurant, ‘Saar,’ has taken a significant step in promoting Indian culinary diversity. By incorporating millets into their dishes, Saar highlights the importance of India’s traditional grains on the global gastronomic map. This culinary innovation not only introduces millets to a wider audience but also signifies India’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and healthy eating. So-called poor man’s food grain grown in the developing world is set to become a sign of good health. India being the President of G20 this year is a significant achievement in showcasing the voices of the global south. Further, the introduction of “Modi Thali” at a New Jersey restaurant tantalises taste buds, fosters cultural appreciation, and strengthens bonds between India and the United States.

Amidst the unfolding events of this highly anticipated visit, the spotlight also shifted  to Buddhism. Prime Minister Modi, with a keen eye for nurturing cultural ties, seized the opportunity to engage in a momentous meeting with Prof. Robert Thurman, an esteemed American scholar whose eminence in the realm of Buddhism is widely acknowledged. The two luminaries embarked on a captivating exploration of how the timeless values and teachings of Buddhism can serve as a guiding light in the face of pressing global challenges. The prominence given to Buddhism signifies not only the remarkable cultural depth of India but also the visionary approach of PM Modi to leverage the power of Buddhism at the global level.

India’s soft power diplomacy has transcended traditional realms such as culture, food, books, and films, with the Indian diaspora playing a significant role. The Indian-American community, being the second largest immigrant group in the US, organised unity marches in 20 cities ahead of PM Modi’s visit, showcasing their commitment to fostering stronger bilateral ties. The significant presence of Indian Americans extends beyond the corporate sector, encompassing influential roles in politics as well. Kamala Harris, being an Indian American who holds the esteemed position of Vice President of the US, highlights the achievements of the Indian diaspora. By actively engaging in economic, social, and political spheres, the Indian diaspora acts as a bridge, facilitating greater understanding, collaboration, and mutual prosperity between the two nations. Their efforts show the invaluable role of the diaspora in strengthening and deepening bilateral relations, ultimately paving the way for a more robust India-US partnership.

The power of soft diplomacy is undeniably strong, as showcased during PM Modi’s first state visit to the US. While discussions on defence deals and technology collaborations garnered attention, it was the soft power aspects that captured the imagination and hearts of people. Despite some criticism, the overall excitement and happiness surrounding the visit outperformed everything else. Foreign diplomacy has become rich and exciting again, highlighting India’s cultural richness and successful initiatives like International Yoga Day and the International Year of Millets. By leveraging its soft power resources, India has fostered stronger cultural bonds, paving the way for a more comprehensive and dynamic India-US partnership.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

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Neelima completed her Post Graduation in MA Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal Academy of Higher Education. While pursuing her masters she has done her 3 months Internship from the Middle East Institute, New Delhi. After completion of the course she worked for 2 months as IR project Intern at Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi. She is passionate about research and writing in the field of International Relations. Her Interest areas include West Asia, Indo-pacific, Multilateralism, Global and National Security.

Neelima A
Neelima A
Neelima completed her Post Graduation in MA Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal Academy of Higher Education. While pursuing her masters she has done her 3 months Internship from the Middle East Institute, New Delhi. After completion of the course she worked for 2 months as IR project Intern at Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi. She is passionate about research and writing in the field of International Relations. Her Interest areas include West Asia, Indo-pacific, Multilateralism, Global and National Security.

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