Brand India may finally win the day against China: Expert

"Brand China is about enforced conformity. Brand India is about openness and diversity; every culture and every religion is represented here," Nicholas J. Cull, a British-born historian and theorist of public diplomacy, told IANS in an interview during a visit here.

"India is a conversation in which everybody can take a part. Indians are argumentative as well as tolerant. This is part of India's DNA," said Cull, professor of public diplomacy and director, masters programme in public diplomacy, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California.

Cull cited these salient brand features to pitch eloquently for a permanent seat for India in the UN Security Council.

"India belongs to the Security Council. I absolutely would like to see India in the Security Council," Cull said during his recent visit to India to participate in a seminar on public diplomacy.

"It's surprising that European powers continue to have seats in the UN Security Council. It's time that they make way for emerging powers like India," he said just days before India enters the Security Council as a non-permanent  member for a two-year term after a gap of nearly two decades.

Cull has authored many pioneering works like 'Public Diplomacy in a Changing World' and 'The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989' that tries to reconstruct countries as brands.

Cull contrasts India's style of low-key diplomacy and spontaneous soft power expression with orchestrated image-building indulged in by China's rulers.

"The truth about China's public diplomacy is that it is for domestic consumption. China wants to give its people the gift of the admiration of the world," he said while alluding to the spectacular 2008 Beijing Olympics which was widely seen as China's coming out party in influential capitals of the world.

"The Beijing Olympics was designed not to impress you and me, but the Chinese people. It helped the Chinese elite govern," he said.

On the contrary, India does so many wonderful things in the world, but keeps quiet about it, says Cull, while recalling the evacuation of hundreds of Indians stranded in Lebanon in 2006 and the pan-Africa e-network that brings tele-medicine and tele-education to the African people as shining examples of Indian diplomacy.

India's soft power is immense and will hold the key, predicts Cull.

"As the years go by, India is set to be more influential and powerful in the face-off with China," he said.

Providing an insight into why the world by and large feels at ease with an emerging India but has unease about a rising China, Cull says: "When they think about India, they think about good music and films. When they think about China, they don't have the same warmth. I am basically for India."

He, however, warns against smugness. Having a strong brand is not enough, Cull argued, adding that it was important to manage and sustain a brand in public consciousness.

What threatens Brand India? "When organizations peddle exclusionary ideologies or tendencies, it undermines the India brand. India should also be vigilant against the government's tendency to squash opposition and voices of dissent and the widening divide between the rich and the poor," he said.

"America is a great brand associated with freedom and democracy. When the US tortures people without trials, it undermines the brand. When China does it, nobody minds it as it is seen as a repressive nation with repressive tendencies," he explained.

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