Is soft power enough for Nagaland?

Moa Jamir

Nagaland, a state nestled in the northeastern part of India, has long been recognised for its vibrant culture, unique traditions and festivals. The Hornbill Festival is symbol of Brand Nagaland and the emerging Naga Soft Power, proclaimed Nagaland Chief Minister in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on the eve of the festival in 2022. The State’s premier festival, held annually from December 1-10, over the years has become a cornerstone of Nagaland’s cultural identity.

During the commencement of the Fourth Session of the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly on February 26, Governor La Ganesan harped on the rising prominence of the State’s soft power. He emphasised the steady expansion of the State’s soft power beyond its borders by highlighting Nagaland’s ascent as a music and arts hub in the North East region and the country, with the Hornbill Music Festival standing out as one of India’s premier music events. The 2023 edition witnessed the participation of 40 bands and 800 musicians from five countries, leaving a lasting social media impact of over 10 million, as the Governor pointed out. The hosting of Asia Music Summit (AMS) this month was also highlighted. 

In the realm of International Relations (IR), American political scientist Joseph Samuel Nye Jr defines power as the ability to achieve desired outcomes and influence others. He further distinguishes between two types of power - Hard power, the ability to make others act against their initial preferences, and soft power, the ability to make others desire the outcomes one seeks.

Soft power, characterised by achieving goals through attraction rather than coercion, is considered an essential component of foreign policy, although Nye proposes the concept of smart power, advocating for a balance of hard and soft power to effectively achieve foreign policy objectives. Applying this to Nagaland’s context prompts a critical examination of whether the state’s soft power alone is adequate to drive significant outcomes.

Meanwhile, Governor Ganesan, in his Monday speech, asserted that the government has been consistently enhancing critical infrastructure such as road connectivity and power to ensure the state’s fast-track development along with soft power. However, a critical inquiry arises regarding whether Nagaland’s soft power alone can propel the state into a trajectory of sustainable development.

The Hornbill Festival, undoubtedly a global spectacle, needs to evolve into a self-sustaining entity rather than relying on annual state funding. The same applies to Nagaland’s vibrant music scene, where true success lies in artists earning a livelihood independently. The state must transition from being a mere patron to fostering an environment where cultural industries can thrive economically.

The apparent growth of soft power is indeed commendable, but it must be accompanied by economic initiatives to truly influence others. A crucial consideration is the state’s dependency on others. For instance, any prolonged stir or bandh in neighbouring Assam brings Nagaland’s activities to a standstill. This vulnerability underscores the need for economic self-sufficiency to truly wield influence regionally and nationally.

To leverage this positive environment, alongside soft power, the state government must harness hard power in terms of economic means. This strategic approach is vital for Nagaland to emerge as a major player in the region and the country, ensuring a harmonious fusion of cultural richness and economic prowess.

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