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The missing ingredient in Hindusthan’s soft power – Cannot be Islam

I am continuing to follow Mr. Nitin Pai’s thought process that seems to have emerged with his proposal to “export” what he calls “Indian Islam”. I responded to that proposal here and I certainly hope he considers my argument against; before further embarking on this course. Mr. Pai has now sought to develop his basic idea of “using” Islam as a tool in Hindusthan’s foreign policy and sees it as the missing ingredient in our projection of soft power. I remain with this understanding even though Mr. Pai has tried, later on; to make half hearted amends somewhat by exclaiming “why promote just one religion?”

Whilst responding to his latest, I shall continue to address Mr. Pai as The Proposer for purposes of convenience.

In my earlier response to the proposer, I had explained how secularism itself manifests itself in our foreign policy as indeed it does in the foreign policy of any multi-cultural liberal democracy.

Hindusthan has had a secular foreign policy for the simple reason that a secular-liberal polity is inherently designed to portray a minority friendly image even at the cost of the national majority. Therefore it is bound to pursue a domestic and foreign policy that is not perceived as going against the interests of its minorities.


To assume otherwise, in my opinion, would not be an accurate measure of our experience because the proposer cannot prove to us that our foreign policy has been devoid of religious influence, specifically with respect to the influence of Islam. Therefore, the only reason I can think of for this insistence on “getting away” from a supposedly secular foreign policy, is to try and create legitimate grounds for an openly Islam oriented foreign policy for Hindusthan.

My argument is against the use of Islam as a lever of Hindusthan’s foreign policy. We have tried to use Islam a number of times; in fact, we have consistently used Islam in our foreign policy without anything positive to show for it. All it has helped generate is more intransigence from our Islamic neighbors and from Muslims within Hindusthan.

In so far as our relationship with the Islamic world is concerned, we must decide what we want. The Islamic world is itself clear that they want a say in the affairs of Muslims in Hindusthan. The romanticism of an “Indian Islam” that can be wielded in foreign policy, to our benefit, should be shelved until such an Islam and its uses to a Hindu country are explicitly articulated.

I find that the proposer continues to delude himself about secularism not working at home and being practiced abroad. Let me explicitly state again that secularism cannot work in any other way but this, at home and abroad – if the home polity is multi-cultural.

Further on in the article, the proposer describes how Hindusthan has exercised a specifically Hindu and (Buddhist) religious influence over foreign lands and people. I don’t know how relevant the recalling of such facts are to bolster an idea that seeks to play with a fictitious “Indian Islam”, but I’d like to say that this is something Hindusthan can still conduct meaningfully. So instead of playing with the fire of Islam, why not use the same strategy and project a Hindu foreign policy? But I realize by this time that the proposer has completely misunderstood the following –

1. The nature of secular-liberalism in a multi-cultural polity

2. Why we have taken to utilizing Islam but have not projected Hindu Dharmic values as part of our foreign policy. (Please remember, this is the opposite of what the proposer believes has happened. He insists that we have been “secular”, i.e. without the influence of religion, in our foreign policy)

Then there are some factual errors whilst speaking about the double-edgedness of employing religion in foreign policy. (I’m not against projecting Hindu Dharma but against employing Islam)

1. Who can say that promoting economic freedom in China isn’t to blame for the relative decline of the United States?

Radical changes in China’s communist economic policies were not influenced by the US but by China’s own realization of the dangers in continuing with Mao’s program. Anybody who has studied the Great Leap Forward and its effects will vouch for this position.

2. Who can say that supporting a democratic Bangladesh has been without negative consequences for India?

I’m not sure we supported a specifically democratic Bangladesh. Or that we would not have supported a Bangladesh if there was no promise of democracy.

3. Who can say that the Soviet Union didn’t suffer after supporting Communism in China?

The Soviet Union did not suffer because it promoted communism in China. It suffered because it sought to control China’s communist party.

The confusion continues. The West’s support for the Vatican and its role in Eastern Europe was in line with what Eastern Europe intrinsically was; deeply Christian. The closest analogy to my mind would be exertion of Islam’s influence in Turkey. There is no disconnect here. Saudi Arabia exercises great oil money influence over secular-democratic regimes that host Muslim populations apart from influencing Sunni regimes worldwide. Buddhism was and is the mainstay of any argument for a free Tibet. One cannot argue for the freedom of Tibet without reference to Buddhism. But then again, how is all this relevant to Hindusthan’s promotion of Islam, albeit of an “Indian” variety? Is it not naïve in the extreme to think that such promotion of Islam abroad will have limited adverse or no consequences at home? The Muslim minority at home has ensured our secular-liberal polity adheres to an Islam friendly foreign policy without having to officially adopt it.

But I’m sold on the idea that we must project Hindu Dharmic values in our foreign policy. Let’s face it. Hindusthan’s role in the world is as a Hindu country. The sooner we realize it the better for all of us. We cannot exert real influence if we deny this fact. There might be a 160 million Muslims residing in our land but these will forever remain a counter for Muslim countries to play with. The way we can influence that play is by making the rules of this game clear as far as Hindusthan is concerned because, let’s not forget, Hindusthan has close to a billion Hindus and our real power comes from mobilizing them.

The proposer says –

India must influence the global Islamic dynamic. We cannot do so unless we are able to promote the Indian alternative to the petro-dollar powered Middle Eastern doctrines that are today dominating Muslim communities around the world. We cannot do so as long as the institutions and the leaderships of our Muslim community are in awe of imported doctrines and foreign funding. We cannot do so as long as our Muslim intellectuals do not have the conviction, courage and wherewithal to stand up for the ten centuries of knowledge and wisdom that go into India’s Islamic traditions.


And I’d like to reiterate a point made in my previous response.

Given this scenario, how exactly does the proposer think Hindusthan can export “its” version of Islam as a countervailing force against an Islam seeking political dominance? For Hindusthan’s version of Islam to gain prominence in the Muslim world, two things need to happen – 1. Hindusthan’s version of Islam also must seek political dominance or parity 2. Hindusthan as a State must be able to guarantee the political backing its version of Islam will necessarily seek to sustain itself. If Hindusthan’s version of Islam is not in the game either for dominance or parity, then it will likely lose credibility amongst Muslims. Both these above imperatives will make Hindusthan a de-facto Islamic State.

Finally, the blunder is to assume Hindusthan’s Muslim population has no voice in today’s world. They do. Only their voice is hardly different from the ones emanating from the Islamic world. It is weird to think of Hindusthan exercising “Islamic soft power” in such a scenario. It can only bring us more grief.

– Namaste

2 Responses

  1. Super analysis,
    The best inclusive message that India can take to the world through foreign policy or elsewhere is though the Hindu ethos. Before marketing a fictitious concept of Indian-Islam, we should look at our own muslims and ask the tough question, do our muslims subscribe to the so called “Indian Islam” or they still adhere to the same versions which came here 10 centuries ago?
    My view is, if the Indian Muslim had accepted the concept of “Indian Islam”, we would not have had this discussion, or any discussion about indian secularism in the first place 🙂

  2. Thanks Vishwanath.

    My thinking is that Nitin Pai is obliged to explain what he means by “Indian Islam”.

    He’s not alone in asserting there is some such species in existence, however, I haven’t come across anybody who can clearly articulate the form and substance of this “Islam” and how it is different from the other.

    I guess we’ll have to wait until Mr Pai puts pen to paper.

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