Contesting images of India

When people think about India what crosses their mind, defines the worldwide understanding of India. But, why it is important to discuss about people’s perception about India? Should India care about it? A country’s reputation determines the way people, inside and outside the country, feel and relate to it. In the globalized world, a country’s image has become a decisive factor in social, political and economic relations in the world. States are gradually acknowledging the significance of national reputation for investment and economic development.

In the age of public diplomacy, not merely the perception of government matters, but the perception of the people or rather I must say, public opinion regarding a country occupies a significant place in the world politics. It is not just about popularity or making your presence felt, but closer to being seen in a positive light. Strong and famous don’t necessarily mean positive: North Korea, Iraq and few other countries have strong and famous reputations but definitely not positive ones.

Simon Anholt has rightly described the world as one market, where every country, every religion and every city must compete with each other for its share of the world’s consumers, tourists, investors, students, entrepreneurs etc. for the  attention and respect of the international media, with other governments and the people of other countries. And, to rule this market, a country has to present itself as a positive brand to strengthen the identity and self-esteem of the citizen; increase political influence; and erase misconception and negative stereotype about it. Branding efforts have branched out well beyond simple efforts at attracting tourism. Countries now hire firms to help them launch sophisticated branding campaigns aimed at luring foreign investment, facilitating trade, improving private-sector competitiveness, or even securing geopolitical influence. Further, they are working to upgrade their infrastructure to make it favourable for investors in order to fetch more investment. India also operates along the same course but has remained inconsistent with its picture.

 Defining India’s global reputation

From the beginning India, set up its image as an independent and emerging power by not aligning with any of the superpower during the cold war, sending the message of sovereign determination and no internal involvement by some other country. It hence, came across as a firm leader of the decolonized states.  Over the course of time, by opening its economy in 1990s, India made its positive presence felt in the economic sector as well. But these positive global images weren’t left unchallenged. They were highly challenged at domestic front in the cultural dimension where India remained a place of religious contentions and violence.

Eventually India created a brand for itself breaking the stereotypes of India being backward through its military might, political influences, technological advances and most importantly its cultural power. Culturally beside Bollywood, yoga also empowers India’s reputation. Recently, celebration of world yoga day sent across a message of India’s cultural contribution to the world. But like earlier this image has contested counterparts, which question the Indian reputation.  BBC documentary India’s daughter questions the societal structure and India’s outlook towards women, which created a wave of generalisation of India not being safe for women. Later, India’s image faced another jolt when incredible India became intolerable India. A country which stand proud on the pillar of secularism became intolerant to religious minorities, thus, questioning the applicability of secular principles.

Re-branding India

Therefore, to regain the image and make it consistent for the political and economic influence in the world, India needs to concentrate on three elements. Firstly, it has to emphasize on the positive advances of the country to form an overall image. But, it doesn’t mean that it has to construct that it is not, but to demonstrate the world, what it is. Secondly, in the age of social media there is an overflow of information, which is not always reliable. And, repetition of a wrong information makes it a true one, thus it is important to re-activate the sources of authentic information about country to avoid any form of stereotypes and misconceptions. And, finally, it is important to tackle the existing issue, rather than pushing them under the carpet. It is necessary to solve the issue from the root cause instead of letting them affect the discourse of national image. For that, India must take charge of domestic issues positively bringing favourable outcome for those involved. This will further create peace domestically and ensures the strengthening of India’s influence in the world market.

The game of power struggle is not new in world politics, and so is India as its prominent player. But, in the contemporary world, it has become more about perception and influence than weapons and economic advances. Hence, this shift in the world scenario makes it mandatory for India to re-emphasis on its influential power.

Loveleena Sharma


The author is a YFFP Jindal Foreign Policy fellow.



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