Unlike China, the other Asian behemoth India has strong, if not always consistent, public diplomacy tools at its disposal. This is not to say that it’s perfect, but it is able to make several claims to support its positive role both as an agent of change and as a stable actor in the world community.
India often lays claim to being the “world’s largest democracy”. In an era where the move towards freer forms of democracy is healthy - as evidenced by the Arab Spring of 2011 and the “color revolutions” of the mid-aughts – this is an important distinction, and one that sets it well apart from China and Russia, two of the other “BRICS” and it’s main geopolitical competitors. The embrace of India’s heterogeneous make-up (“unity out of diversity”) also serves to act as a positive image to other nations. A diverse ethnic and religious tableau working within a democratic framework is a positive influence on the world stage. Finally, Bollywood, the most active entertainment sector in the world, and a strong popular musical presence allow India to spread informal PD throughout the region and other parts of the world, while Indian universities are quickly making a name for themselves. Add in the fact that many, at least educated, Indians speak the current lingua franca, and it is ripe for imparting a positive image of itself both to its own citizens and to the world at large.
There is, of course, some tarnish on the silver. Having such a large population of relatively unskilled and uneducated people, and a poverty rate over one quarter, is a major issue for India moving forward. It seems especially that the highly-touted Indian democracy has not been able to keep up with the Chinese miracle going on next door, which can and will make it difficult to act as a developing world alternative to the Beijing Consensus. A throwback to near-dictatorial times, the bureaucracy is almost as creaky as some of the colonial-era infrastructure, both of which the country rely upon heavily. Both will need to be modernized and made more lithe and adaptable to change the perception of India into that of a vibrant, soft-powerful nation.
These are not insurmountable obstacles, and overall India is making positive, if quiet, headway in projecting itself as a country on the way up, and one that is happy to support others of a like mind to do so.