“Cultural Diplomacy is the ability to persuade through culture, values and ideas, as opposed to “hard power”, which conquers or coerces through military might”.
—Prof. Joseph S. Nye?
Modi’s Japan visit is as historic as BJP’s victory in the general elections 2014. His ability to sell brand India and accomplishment of generating commitment of 3.5 trillion Yen from Japan has got wider publicity. Some strategic experts also tried to analyse the power game to counter China through this visit. It is also true that both India and Japan both Modi and Abe have got stable and full majority governments after a long time in the respective democratic milieu. Strong nationalist image of the both have also played crucial role in developing personal chemistry, which is significant in bilateral diplomacy. However, if we explore the underneath current behind the choice of Japan as the first major power to visit and contours of this visit, it is the historical cultural connects that Modi is counting on in this diplomatic endeavour.
As the Modi had rightly touched on an umbilical cord between the ‘Rising Sun’ and ‘Shining Sun’ countries even before going to Japan, India’s Japan links are dated back to at least 6th century when Buddhism entered Japan. Both the countries have eternal cultural ethos with the spirit of coexistence. Both Shinto and Hindu culture never tried to invade or proselytise other. Therefore, if 21st century is to be Asian century then it has to be based on this, in a way Oriental cultural ethos, which even Modi emphasised during his interaction with the Indian community in Japan.
In modern times, Japan was an active partner in India’s struggle against colonial rule. Netaji Bose could raise Indian National Army and establish the first government in exile only due to the dynamic support provided by Japan. India played important role in post-Japan reconstruction not in legal terms but even in terms of human and financial resources.
India-Japan linkages were soured only during the cold-war period when Japan was caught up in the Anglo-Saxon scheme of things and India was attached to the idea of third worldism. The moment Cold War receded; both the countries could grab the opportunity to reconnect the partnership. Whether visit to the Koji temple or signing up of MoU between two age-old heritage cities of Kyoto and Varanasi, all these moves signify this cultural platform. The element of trust generated by cultural links allowed Modi and Abe to keep aside ‘nuclear’ issue of their dialogue purview, still lifting the ban on six Indian companies in Japan, which was imposed after India’s nuclear tests in 1998. Modi’s interaction with students or business community, everything had cultural ingredients.
We have to remember that culture as an instrument of foreign policy has been practiced much before the emergence of modern nation states. India has been using it effectively since ages. Like hardware-software relationship, If hard elements of diplomacy to work soft power of diplomacy needs to be installed. Therefore, one should not make the mistake of judging Modi’s Japan visit as only as a business endeavour. Whether it is Bhagawat-Gita or playing drums and flute, the clear message of Modi’s Japan visit is, while acquiring hard power and sustaining economic growth, it is the ‘power of culture’ that India should use efficiently to further its national interest. ? ?