Pax Indica: Use religion in foreign policy

The missing ingredient in India’s soft power

“We have allowed,” today’s Pax Indica contends “our misunderstanding of secularism to keep religion out of the foreign policy toolkit.”


No one bats an eyelid when someone argues that we should use democracy, free-market capitalism, socialism or “South-South solidarity” to promote India’s interests abroad. But mention religion and all sorts of people jump at you. The first objection you hear is that “it’s against our secular values”. This is absurd, as I’ve just argued, because secularism applies only to India’s internal affairs.

It is unacceptable for a country with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, one with the longest experience of practising the Islamic faith in a multi-religious society to have no voice at all in one of the most important geopolitical dynamics of our time. India’s lack of Islamic soft power is a symptom of its, well, secular rejection of religious soft power. If we are serious about being a major global power, if soft power is to be something more than a feel-good story, and indeed for our own survival and security, we must dispassionately begin to make strategic use of our religion and culture. [Read the rest at Yahoo! India]

13 thoughts on “Pax Indica: Use religion in foreign policy”

  1. The congress party president, the prime minister,the defense minister, and the “prime minister to be” all have one thing in common. They are not representative of 85% of India. This anomaly is symptomatic of India’s and Hinduism’s history for the past 1200 years. Before we look at foregoing secularism abroad, lets renegotiate how it is used at home.

  2. Nitin
    It sounds interesting in theory but what specific steps do you have in mind for such an initiative ?
    * Is it publicising prominent sufi Dargahs like that in Ajmer or Delhi
    * Publicising works by Indian muslim authors both past and present
    * India’s ambassador to the OIC or to muslim countries like that Obama’s Rashid Husain
    * Conducting seminars by the Indian embassys and cultural centres

    1. Mr History Lover,
      Sir, your initiatives are too predictive. We have a global footprint. Let stamp on it!!
      From Guyana to Fiji, From Bali to the Bamiyan and further…..

    2. I hadn’t really thought of this issue before. But it seems to me that as a country, we could put ourselves forward as the official voice of the third largest Muslim population in the world.

  3. This is actually a very good idea.

    If someone smells like a pig it is a problem for him, but he can always use that fact to get a seat in a crowded local train. 😛

  4. Only Indians can fix the problems that require playing power politics, where the use of any asset of the nation, religious, cultural, whatever, is fair game. It is only if India’s elected leadership does not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by giving up strategic advantages for a useless UNSC seat. If this government binds itself down by accepting the UNSC seat, India will lose land and much more in the coming years.

  5. Very well written. Perhaps, the most important statement of the article is “Moreover, who says foreign policy must promote only one religion?” If religion can move mountains, then why should it not be used as a major player in foreign policy? Be it any religion.

  6. Would like to add something to that.The Nalanda project isn’t the first or only initiative taken.

    Vajpayee’s government was a lot more ambitious and was on track to making a difference.Just that they do not get the publicity they deserve in India.And unfortunately one more reason that I still wish there will be someone who writes a
    definitive work on the long term impact of the NDA regime.

    There are at least two other initiatives I know of.
    The Ta Prohm temple near Angor Wat is the first. The ASI took up its renovation and as far as I know have done a great job. It was a tough assignment, took years and years and was surely underfunded.

    The second is the White Horse temple in Luoyang province (Baima is I think what the Chinese call it). It is supposed to be the cradle of Buddhism in China. Vajpayee & co. decided to renovate and refurbish it. Think it got fully done a few months ago. Again well received.

    There probably are others out there too, but I have visited both these places and unsurprisingly there were no other Indians around in either!

  7. I disagree.

    India is a secular country. Period. Advertising any religion in any part of the world at the official government level would only endanger India’s long-standing secular credentials. And where does it stop? If India is to wield “Islamic soft-power” as the second-largest muslim population in the world, it won’t stop at mere cultural promotion – India will have to take a view on the middle-east conflict, on war on terror, on the growing Islamisation and that won’t be an impartial view – we will have to take one view and one view only and that would almost certainly not be in our best interest!

    The fact remains that India is not an Islamic nation (or a Hindu nation or a Christian nation) and we should steer clear of any involvement that would potentially even remotely present us as such!

  8. Nitin I’ve always liked reading your well-reasoned pieces and have followed your blog almost from the very beginning, though not lately. I returned happily to your writings with you latest Yahoo post on the need to use religion in foreign policy, and approve. This is obviously not the first time you’ve advocated for the use of soft Islamic power, or the need to project the power of our Sufi tradition.

    But I remain a little puzzled by this statement: ‘We have perverted secularism at home and suffered for it.’ What exactly do you mean by it, because I tend to believe Amartya Sen and Rajeev Bhargava’s line of secularism in India – messy but something to be admired and perhaps even emulated by European nations. Unlike of course secularism practiced in the UK or even France.


    1. Venkatesh,

      GOI is involved in all sorts of religious matters — from subsidising Haj, to running temples, to letting “personal law” violate fundamental rights and so on.

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