Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enthusiastically used the religious dimension of India’s soft power in order to market brand India. Yoga and Ayurveda cannot be strongly associated with religion; however, Hinduism and Buddhism are being used to promote India’s interests in the neighbourhood as well as to reconstitute the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region. Mr. Modi has often made visits to Hindu and Buddhist shrines in the neighbourhood, apparently to counter China’s promotion of Buddhism. India hosted Sri Lankan military personnel and their families in Bodh Gaya last year. This was projected as an innovative way of wooing Sri Lanka back into India’s geopolitical orbit. Serious attempts are also being made to encourage Nepal to reciprocate India’s attempts to forge Hindu-based civilisational bonds with the country. U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Janakpur in Nepal in December on the occasion of Vivah Panchami. Being an advocate of restoration of Nepal’s monarchy and Hindu status, Mr. Adityanath’s visit put a question mark on the usefulness of such gestures in creating an atmosphere of goodwill between the two countries.
The proponents of Hindutva ideology believe that India’s identity is made up of Hinduism and other religious faiths which originated from Indian soil, such as Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. Since the Modi government has given primacy to Hinduism and Buddhism for diplomatic outreach, quietly ignoring the rich Indian legacy of Sufi Islam, it could not afford to be seen denying India’s Sikh community an opportunity to visit the Kartarpur shrine when Pakistan seemed willing to roll out a red carpet for them.
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