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How India is exercising soft power through Heritage of Yoga

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Recently, we must have witnessed the hype in Press about the International Yoga Day celebrations led by India all over the world.

The event evoked mélange of reactions, while some highly appraised the initiative there were also some criticisms as well. Moreover analysts didn’t fall short to offer their own analysis by analyzing the ancient Indian scriptures and offering their analyzing in the context of present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. What is the essence of Yoga? How is it related with Religion? Is it a way to exercise India’s soft power? How is Yoga entering the arena of Diplomacy and International Affairs? With an intention of offering a holistic view, I will lay down some perspectives from different angles to enlighten our reader’s attention.

What is Yoga?

The contemporary analysis of Yoga by journalists and certain teachers has been limited only to the postures. Of course as we see that the west has adopted the more physical form of yoga which has been a billion dollar business so far. The flagship film of Yoga Day clearly states that the object of Yoga is Samadhi, by traditional means one has to perfect the asanas to achieve a healthy body, mind and spirit, then he has to internalize the process by focusing more on meditation which will lead to the state of Yoga. Essentially, Yoga is Sanskrit word, it means the union and connection with the divinity thereby achieving self-realization. Thus at the out the outset it is the process of self-realization which is an outcome of Yoga. A Yogi is a person who practices Yoga, he has to obtain the state of Yoga, i.e. achieving the state of Nirvikilpa Samadhi, and it means that a Yogi enters into the dimension of thoughtless awareness which means connection of ones soul with the divinity. This state is more or less like an ecstatic experience of vibrations which a yogi feels after having attaining the state of Samadhi. Therefore practicing only physical posture may present us certain benefits but they won’t offer us the spiritual bliss and peace which is the ultimate aim of Yoga. This is where philosophy of Saint Kabir enlightens us, in his poetry he mentions “Pothi Padh Padh Kar Jag Mua, Pandit Bhayo Na Koye, Dhai Akhshar Prem Ke, Jo Padhe So Pandit Hoye.” Which means “Reading books hasn’t made anyone wiser. But the One who has experienced even the first flush of love, knows more about Life than a learned man. This leads us to conclusion that one doesn’t becomes a Yogi by analyzing or mere practicing, one actually becomes a Yogi by achieving the state of Yoga.

Another confusion created by analysts is about whether Yoga is the part of Hinduism. It is true to some extent that the science of self-realization was first expounded in India in prehistoric era, but the emphasis of yoga on scriptures in no way leads to conclusion that yoga is a part of Hindu philosophy. Firstly Hinduism was never a formalized religion, Secondly, it acknowledges the incarnations of realized souls who descent on earth to alleviate the human lives. Thus every soul who walked on the earth to propagate the message of divinity is promoting Yoga in other words, all the prophets spoke about it, For example Jesus Christ did mention about connection with Holy Ghost and Supreme Father, Prophet Mohammad did emphasized that the Islam is surrender to Allah and that one has obtain divinity by completely surrendering to the formless and omnipresent god, similarly Buddha in his quest for liberation founded eight fold path for Nirvana. All of them are essentially speaking of the same connection in different times of history but the purpose is same, i.e. to uplift the consciousness of humans and to establish the process of self-realization within humans. Another beautiful example about unity of purpose in religions could be found in a classic titled Majma-Ul-Bahrain or The Mingling of the Two Oceans, written by King Dara Shikoh who was the eldest son and the heir-apparent of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. In this explores the interconnection and similarities between Sufism and Vedanta traditions.

We may also turn our attention towards Sahaja Yoga which is unique from other branches of Yoga, Sahaja Yoga claims to be the Yoga promoting universal harmony by emphasizing about the role of sacred masters hailing from different religions. Most of the time it is assumed that Yoga Gurus are mostly male, but it is also interesting to note that this global movement was founded by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi who was the wife of late Dr. Sir C.P. Srivastava, International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Emeritus. In fact back in 1990 she conducted a Sahaja Yoga session at United Nations New York on the topic of Self Realization. Due to the diplomatic career of Sir C.P. Srivastava, Shri Mataji often spent her time out of India, travelling different countries, this further on acted as a catalyst for her to understand the western culture and thereby introducing them to Yoga which is simple and spontaneous.

Yoga and Diplomacy

The French case of promoting the French Culture and Language is a very interesting example of pursing diplomacy of preserving and promoting the heritage, art and culture. The role of France in creating International Organization La Francophonie in 1970 shows that it is assuming its authority in preserving the language, and through its means it would exercise its soft power in francophone countries. According to the organizations website, the member countries “also share the humanist values promoted by the French language. The French language and its humanist values represent the two cornerstones on which the International Organisation of La Francophonie is based.” In the same way, France is promoting French Language and culture through Alliance française. French Language, Wine and Cheese Tasting, Art, Culture and Education are one of the key activities promoted by Alliance française across the world.

Throughout the course, India managed to embrace the influx of different cultures but has still managed to retain the essence and the crux of divinity imbibed in its pluralistic traditions. At the times where British and French took pride in having colonies, India was still keeping its values and traditions alive. Being more than 5000 years old, Yoga as a science of self-realization has still managed to survive, neither India exercised its power to control it nor it promoted it. It played a vital role in creating state of art kings who would seek the guidance of yogis, moreover the fame of India and its philosophy spread across the world which dragged the attention of mystics, traders, monks and even philosophers and even colonizers. However India, since its independence hasn’t exercised cultural diplomacy as a part of its main stream diplomacy. The complexities within the Indian Culture and the diversity in makes it more complicated for India play a legitimate role on promoting its own heritage and culture. At the same time India takes pride of its rich past, from the science of Ayurveda to the secular values of Emperor Akbar and monuments like Taj Mahal, India cherishes it all, but it fails to endorse it. Moreover India is one of the largest contributor of UN Peace Forces as well. So Logically, India has all right to promote Yoga, just like France does for French Language, this is essentially important because of two primary reasons. Firstly, why didn’t previous governments undertook such step, were they ignorant or yoga was not on their agenda. Secondly, the west adopted yoga much faster than India did, that’s the reason why so many gurus settled out of India. The Yoga also flourished as a business where various forms of yoga were introduced which are completely opposite to the original philosophy. It is at this time, India had to reassume its position by sharing the true knowledge and true purpose of yoga which is to achieve peace and harmony.

On the 21st June, a record was created where millions of people practiced Yoga, which was even a rare fact for Indian to cherish its own heritage. I am not sure except any victory in sports if an Indian can recall when was the last time the world followed India’s footsteps? When was the last time they saw a Head of State appealing UN to adopt a Yoga day and himself practicing Yoga? Those practicing Yoga on yoga day across the world didn’t come for showoff, they rather came because they saw hope, because they are seeking the peace within and because it’s worth trying. Although analysts may accuse government’s agenda and may find out loop holes in organization of mass event, they miss out the bigger picture of a massive country which has been at the epicenter of spirituality for the world and its role to lead the world by example. Of course Modi may find it inevitable to avoid criticisms, however some of his remarks do strike a chord with ancient wisdom. During his speech at UN General Assembly, he said that Yoga could help to tackle climate change and in recent International Conference of Yoga, he mentioned that Yoga could play a vital role in developing peaceful societies, responsible leaders so that we may leave planet in good conditions for future generation. This adds a new dimension of Spirituality in order to achieve Sustainability in every sector. Of course given the state of the world so far, we can make out that neither does industrialization nor investment helps us in tackling with emergent issues, if the mind of the person is not ready to absorb the change. It only through the process of sustainable transformation inside each one of us the society by its collective effort will be able to raise its own consciousness level, this in turn will bring mass change across the civilization. So far we have seen a glimpse of Modi’s vision, but how far it will lead to tangible results is still to be seen.

Future of Yoga

Many companies across the world have integrated Yoga in their HR practice, whereas there are many who practice it on daily basis for spiritual or physical benefits. Certain amount of research is also indicating that it can help us to deal with stress and emotions, Thus it is clear that irrespective of criticisms, Yoga is all set to pave its path for growing popularity. More importantly, it can play a vital role in creating Sustainable Leaders, who have higher level of insights into the issues of the world and which in our definition have capacity to work at intergenerational level and to lay the foundations for next generation. At the Sustainable Leadership blog you can see from the interview of change makers on how they are transforming ideas into action. At the heart of the Sustainable Leadership, the spiritual consciousness plays a vital role in developing a mindset of the leader which allows him to connect the dots between international affairs, entrepreneurship, business and civil society. Through this mindset he is uniquely positioned to offer a novel perspective to deal with issues compared to traditional leaders working in disciplinary silos.

Finally, it needs to reiterate that Yoga is not a fashion, it’s an invaluable asset which is open to humanity, it is up to member states and people across the world to realize its worth and how it could contribute in health care, education, sustainable development issues. It should provoke an internal change which could bring in positive transformation, As Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi says “Divinity is not a fashion. It is the way of Life. It is the need of your being. You have to become that.”

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Diplomacy

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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