Tharoor and the Jasmine Revolution
Former minister Shashi Tharoor’s breezy visit to London last week was symbolic in the extreme: as he told British academics of India’s need to project soft power, a desert storm for democracy swirled in the Middle East. HT reports.delhi Updated: Feb 21, 2011 23:47 IST
Former minister Shashi Tharoor’s breezy visit to London last week was symbolic in the extreme: as he told British academics of India’s need to project soft power, a desert storm for democracy swirled in the Middle East. India’s love of democracy underpinned much of what he had to say, so I took it as yet another auspicious sign when chief election commissioner SY Quraishi turned up for his reception.
Essentially, what Tharoor is doing is trying to fit 21st century India into a neat theory. The term Soft Power was coined by Tharoor’s friend Joseph Nye, an American academic who described it as the ability to get what you want through “attraction” rather than muscle power.
Whether or not the Dr Strangeloves of this world line up on beauty parades remains to be seen. In the meantime, Quraishi appears to be getting what he wants: an upcoming Indian Institute of Democracy and Election Management.
The institute portends well for India, for it can make us look less like the shy bride of democratic world. For unconvincing reasons, Delhi is reluctant to openly urge democracy. But the creation of a substantial fandom is essential to the success of Soft Power: the good cop must have his admirers.
Egyptians had begun asking India for democracy lessons far in advance of this year’s Jasmine revolution. And Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif —the heir apparent —told me last year he had been talking about the Indian model to political conservatives in Libya.
“They (opponents) said ‘Libya is not ready for democracy, we are a backward country, we are a developing country’. I said ‘look at India. Even though they have 100 million illiterate people, it’s the biggest democracy in the world. So India is the best example for us in developing world. So we should shut up’….”
Now Saif al-Islam’s shooting his mouth off, vowing his father’s supporters “will fight until the last man” as hundreds are killed by forces. First lesson of democracy? Shut up and listen.