Friday, July 17, 2009

Changing cast of characters - Indian Public Diplomacy

Traditionally, politics & the state played a significant role in shaping a country's image. Onset of information revolution & globalisation changed all that. There are significant non-state actors that play a crucial role in influencing and moulding public opinion. Most of these non-state actors now do that without any state patronage or direct encouragement from the state. A country should identify, recognise such groups and ensure that any public diplomacy strategy takes into account the existence of such groups. Sometimes, there are possibilities that such groups are acting in a manner that might be inimical to a country's interest or might indirectly promote a country's interests. A strategist should be able to anticipate and 'include' such possibilities.
For India, the 21st century will see the expansion of Indian corporates overseas significantly. These will be Indian MNCs, not necessarily outsourcing vendors, but also manufacturers and traders. These corporates with transnational interests will also be looked upon as "Indian" companies - projecting an image of India overseas. Case in point - Coca Cola & McDonald's - despite their global presence are still looked upon as symbols of 'Americanization' even though these brands adopted brand strategies in each country to 'localize' their product.
India's economic liberalization has meant more Indian companies are aggressively pushing for businesses overseas. Tata's acquisition of Corus, Jaguar, Landrover & Tetley Tea; Mahindra & Mahindra's forays into North America; the already entrenched position of Infosys, Wipro; ONGC Videsh scouting for energy resources overseas; Anil Ambani's tie up with Steven Spielberg to produce Hollywood movies etc. etc. Everyday we come across such stories in Indian & overseas media. What these companies will represent are Indian management style, work ethics, business values etc.
Interestingly, these issues were sharply brought into focus during the acquisition of Arcelor with Mittal Steel to create the biggest steel company of the world. The French CEO of Arcelor, Guy Dolle, is alleged to have made racial taunts against Indian businessman LN Mittal, also the 4th richest man in the world, and is alleged to have said Mittal was offering "monkey money" for acquiring Arcelor. This deal also resulted in the intervention of Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and was widely covered by the press. The Indian government took notice as well. This is all documented in the book "Cold Steel". (Read)
Consider this article that appeared in Fortune magazine in November, 2007 - "Jaguar, Land Rover look to buyers in India" (Read) - it says "Bizarrely, two Indian companies are among the leading bidders. Tata Motors (Charts) is basically a maker of commercial vehicles that has been building passenger cars for only a decade. Mahindra & Mahindra, which specializes in agricultural and utility vehicles, is just starting to build passenger cars this year." I thought the use of the word "bizzarely" was interesting while talking about an "Indian" acquisition of Land Rover. But it just did not stop there. It went on to say "And how many Anglophile owners of Jags and Range Rovers are likely to remain loyal to their brands once title passes to the sub-continent?" - I don't know what it meant, it could be either - Indians are not cool enough, Indian carmakers sucks, Indian companies cannot ensure quality control - whatever, Alex Taylor III might seem to be an Anglophile after one reads this article. What's interesting is that this article followed one in October, 2007 - "India's firms build global empires" (Read) - in the same magazine. A very informative article that concludes with - "Increasingly, Indian dreams are shaping the reality of global commerce. Those dreams ... offer great potential as a force for future growth." Positive insights into the possibility called India. India also has 24 billionaires with a combined net worth of $107 billion. Four Indians were among the world's top 10 richest. (Forbes)
In what could a direct example of what I am trying to put forth here - Indian business has become a crucial actor in Indian Public Diplomacy - consider the following article "Australians praise Sachin, avoid Slumdog to win Indian biz" in the Times of India on July 3, 2009. India and Indians are being closely observed. World over.
Developments such as above foster debate, discussions and the country gets talked about; opinions are formed. These offer wonderful opportunities to spread India's influence overseas as well and claim a bigger say in running the world economy. But do we have a strategy yet to leverage this interest? What would be also interesting to see is how these Indian companies vie for influence with Chinese companies...
-- Madhur


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