Brand Management by other countries in USA
India is under-represented in American academia compared to China, Islam/Middle East and Japan, among others. Even the study of Tibet is stronger than that of India. Worse than the quantitative under-representation is the qualitative one: While other major countries positively influence the content of the discourse about them, pro-India forces rarely have much say in India Studies.
China is fortunate that its thinkers are mostly positive ambassadors promoting its brand. Chinese scholars have worked for decades to create a coherent and cohesive Chinese Grand Narrative that shows both continuity and advancement from within. This gives the Chinese people a common identity based on the sense of a shared past -- one that maps their future destiny as a world power. Pride in One Unifying Notion of the National Identity and Culture is a form of capital, providing an internal bond and a defense against external (or internal) subversions that threaten the whole nation. Scholars play an important role in this construction.
China's Grand Narrative is a strong, centripetal force bringing all Chinese together, whereas many Indian intellectuals are slavishly adopting ideologies that act as centrifugal forces pulling Indians apart.
The China Institute's New York mission is to influence public opinion on China. It holds art shows, language classes, lectures, films, and history lessons. Unlike the India-bashing films and lectures on many American campuses these day (selected by self-flagellating Indian professors), the Chinese project a positive image of China. The key difference is that China's scholars are not trying to go public with China's dirty laundry -- they are not trying to use international forums to fix domestic problems.
In sharp contrast, Indian academics often lack self-confidence and pride in India, and use every opportunity to demean India internationally, and to justify this as a way of helping India's human rights problems. These Indians seem too desperate to join the Grand Narrative of the West, in whatever role they are granted admission, whereas Chinese scholars have not sold out to the same extent.
The China Institute also has many pro-China programs for Chinese parents and kids, K-12 curriculum development, teacher training, student scholarships, and seminars for corporate executives and journalists. The Institute has a successful program to teach Chinese-Americans to project a hyphenated identity that combines both American and Chinese cultures, and they call this 'leadership training,' while South Asian scholar often labor to undermine the Indian-ness of our children's identities, by equating Indian-ness with chauvinism.
A good analysis would also scrutinize the Pakistani government funded Quaid-e-Azam Chairs of Pakistan Studies at Berkeley and Columbia. The appointments to these chairs are under the control of the Pakistani government, and are rotated every few years. Note that this is accepted as normal and has not attracted any criticism from academia. It is little wonder that the American media has interviewed more pro-Pakistan scholars than pro-India scholars.
Pakistani scholars have established their leadership over South Asian Muslims' campus activism in the US, and claim to represent Indian Muslims. Many Indian academicians have joined their bandwagon to denigrate Indian culture in the name of human rights activism and South Asian unity. These scholars hold great influence over young impressionable Indian kids in college. It seems that the Pakistani government has adopted a corporate-style strategic planning process, while many Indian-American donors have not approached this as competitive brand management.
Another good example of how soft power can be developed and projected via academic intervention is the case of Tibet. Twenty five years ago, H H the Dalai Lama asked his Western disciples to get PhDs from top Western universities, and to become Buddhism professors in colleges. Today, almost every major US campus has practicing Buddhists on the faculty, who project their spiritual identities very publicly and confidently.
Even though Buddhism shares most of its meditation techniques with other Indic traditions, Buddhism has become positioned as a valid research methodology for neuroscience, whereas Hinduism is plagued with the caste, cows and curry images. Buddhism is explained intellectually and sympathetically, not via an exotic/erotic lens. Buddhist scholars have a powerful impact on students, and serve as media experts and public intellectuals. Buddhism has major Hollywood endorsements. India has nothing even remotely comparable to the influence of Tibet House in building its cultural capital.
Japan and Korea:
The Japan Foundation and Korea Foundation are also great institutions worthy of study by NRI donors. The Japanese have funded over fifty academic chairs in USA. Pro-Japan scholars occupy these chairs, and they have close ties with scholars based in Japan; they are loyal to the Japanese identity and culture. An ambitious teacher training program has certified thousands of Americans to 'Teach Japan' in schools. The Japanese drive the Americans' study of Japan, and not vice versa as in India's case.
The Korea Foundation has sponsored a series of books on a variety of subjects on Korea and donates/subsidizes these books to libraries worldwide.
Repositioning India's brand
As a priority, India's image in American academia needs a corporate type analysis of the market/competition and current status. This would lead to the diagnosis and identification of key problems needing correction. Only then could a viable strategy emerge. This brand repositioning is necessary for more Indian-Americans to succeed on their own terms in management and political arenas. It is also necessary for an independent profile of India.
The strategy for influencing India Studies could begin with looking at India's technology developments and opportunities, and the resulting geopolitical implications. This could build on the recent positive Indian image in corporate America and American business schools. Donors may want to think about initially working with business schools instead of South Asian Studies Departments, especially since Indian-American donors have better experience in evaluating business scholars than humanities scholars. Many of the contentious issues listed at the end of this article would not apply because of greater convergence between India's interests and the mindset of business schools.
At the same time, culture is an important form of capital and must be positively positioned as a part of any brand management. Cultural branding should not be allowed to become a liability under the control of anti-India forces. Yoga and Ayurveda are examples of positive cultural areas that are now in the mainstream and deserve to be brought back under the India brand. Two illustrations will show the economic cost of not managing cultural capital:
Yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry in the USA, with 18 million American practitioners, $27 billion/year revenues (from classes, videos, books, conferences, retreats), over 10,000 studios/teachers, and 700,000 subscribers to Yoga Journal. However, cultural shame has kept Indians out of this field, and over 98% of yoga teachers and students in USA are non-Indians.
Clearly, the economic potential here could be as big as India's software exports, especially if yoga were included in India's proposed initiative to export health care services. America's yoga centres are potential retail outlets for Indian culture and brand marketing.
Ayurveda is a $2 billion/year industry and a part of the high growth international market for plant medicines. The popular consumer brand, Aveda, was started by an American devotee of Indian gurus to bring Ayurveda to the West. (Aveda is short for Ayurveda.) He later sold it to Estee Lauder: Now, Estee Lauder sources herbs from countries other than India, and there has been no royalty to Kerala's farmers who are being displaced from their traditional industry. Nor is there any recognition of this loss in the Indian intellectual's mind. Contrast this with the way the Chinese government has turned Chinese medicine into a multi-billion dollar vehicle for Brand China, or with the way the French wine and cosmetic industries have endowed their products with a mystique that protects French jobs.
To explain why educated Indians are amongst the best knowledge workers in the world, the common reason given is that the British taught us English, science and governance. But under this theory, all former colonies, such as Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Zaire, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Myanmar should be suppliers of knowledge workers on par with India. Few Indians have the courage to articulate that the reason is partly because of India's long cultural traditions that emphasize learning and inquiry, including the openness fostered by its pluralistic worldviews.
In fact, Indians were exporters of knowledge systems and knowledge workers throughout the Middle East and Pan-Asia for centuries prior to colonialism. Arab/Persian records indicate that many hospitals in the Middle East were run by Indian doctors and that Indian scholars ran their universities. Indians were chief accountants in many Persian courts. Indian mathematics went via Persian/Arab translations to influence European mathematics.
Furthermore, Buddhists took Indian knowledge systems to East and Southeast Asia, including medicine, linguistics, metallurgy, philosophy, astronomy, arts, martial arts, etc. Indian universities (such as Nalanda) attracted students from all parts of Asia, and were patronized by foreign rulers. All this is well appreciated by scholars in East and Southeast Asian countries but is hardly known to Indians.
Indian corporate executives are playing a key role in charting India's future through knowledge based industries. Therefore, it should be important for them to sponsor an honest account of India's long history of exporting both its knowledge workers and complete knowledge systems. This historical account is important in reinventing India's non-innovative education system and repositioning its brand. Hence, Indian-Americans must question the colonial discourse which promotes the view that 'anything positive about India was imported from elsewhere.' The impact of such skewed discourse on Indian children is pertinent and must be examined.
I have found that American audiences are very open and even eager to learn about India's contributions to American culture. But most professors of India Studies in American universities consider such themes irrelevant or, worse still, chauvinistic. In doing so, they apply a different standard to India as compared to other non-Western civilizations. This has a lot to do with the cultural shame that many Indians in academe feel burdened with in contrast with successful Indian executives who project positive identities.
Consider the following examples that are usually not emphasized in the academic research/teaching in India Studies, when equivalent items concerning China, Islam, Japan, etc are emphasized:
America's 'Discovery' was the result of venture capital from the Queen of Spain to explore new trade routes to India, because Indian goods were highly sought after. Most persons find it hard to believe that India could have had such prized export items, and some find such suggestions troubling given their preconceived images of India's culturally linked poverty. Any genuine exploration of India's economic history is nipped in the bud.
The New Age Movement is neo-Hindu, with 18 million Americans doing yoga, meditation, and adopting vegetarianism, animal rights and other Indian values. Eco-Feminism was brought to America by Vandana Shiva, who explained to Americans the philosophies of the sacredness of the environment. American Pop Culture owes a great deal to Indian music (via the Beatles and others), film, art, fashions and cuisine.
Icons of American Literature, such as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Eliot, the Beats, among others, were deeply involved in the study and practice of Indian philosophy and spiritual traditions. While they are widely read and admired, the Indian wellsprings of their inspiration is often downplayed, to the detriment of all students. Modern Psychology, since the work of Jung and others, has assimilated many theories from India, and this has impacted mind-body healing and neurosciences.
American Religion has adopted many Indian theological ideas transmitted via Teilhard de Chardin's study of Ramanuja. Transcendental Meditation was learnt in the 1970s by monks in Massachusetts and repackaged into the popular 'Christian Centering Prayer.' The study of the Hindu Goddess became a source of empowerment for many American Christian women.
American Civil Rights drew inspiration from Gandhi: Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and others wrote about satyagraha as their guiding principle with great reverence in the 1960s, but this has faded from the memory of African-American history as taught today. How many Indians know that Indian social theories influenced J S Mill, who is regarded as the founder of modern Western liberalism, and that many Enlightenment ideas also originated in India and China? The Natural Law Party is considered a pioneer in American political liberalism, but it is generally unknown that it was started by, and is run by, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Western followers.
Such positive themes are rarely reflected in the humanities curricula concerning India. The disciplines are populated by scholars who typically entered the US after the Soviet collapse, when funding by Soviet-sponsored sources ended. They still continue to espouse sociological models that have been discarded for decades, thereby hindered India's progress in the global economy. They continue to promote divisive scholarship about India. One wonders why the West legitimizes such persons and positions them as representatives of India. Now they have reproduced their mindsets in a whole new generation of confused Indian-Americans with PhDs in the humanities.
Challenging the India-Bashing Club
While India's positive image is not adequately projected in US academia, the many negative stereotypes abound, devaluing India's brand into fragments and chaos. These include: