New Delhi: Yesterday, this writer was present at a small gathering of diplomats from several countries of Africa and East Asia. India tantalizes them even though some of the diplomats have been posted in New Delhi for long years. India’s multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious democracy leaves them in wonderment. The wonder is joined by a nagging doubt: will it sustain? The second question uppermost in their minds is: Would India’s rise be peaceful or fraught like China’s?

The Union Ministry of External Affairs’ public diplomacy, quite obviously, has failed to articulate the peaceful nature of India’s rise, if rise it be. India has also failed to capitalize its star quality of republican democracy. Nations across Asia and Africa especially after the Arab Spring are hungry to gain insights into democracy before experimenting with it and India as its largest practitioner is not taking a leadership role and showing them the way.

It is never too late. Indian outreach must present why its “rise” will be peaceful; this is a striking way to counter China’s growing belligerency and in-your-face expansionism. Connected to this, India must showcase its democracy. Since the Ministry of External Affairs is normally wanting in such matters, it falls on this magazine to advance India’s case. And, thankfully, India has a readymade and rather good case.

Because India is a democracy, its rise will be peaceful; this is an inescapable conclusion; almost axiomatic. People usually do not realize that a democratic state has an internal balance of power mechanism; it checks against militarism. If such a state is already influenced by market economics, the balance of power that obtains will be stronger, and its objective quest forever will remain stability. This was rather evident in Britain in the half century after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and despite the military reforms necessitated by shortcomings in the Crimean War.

A democratic state actively seeks internal and external stability. Its rise cannot be based on instability because it will not happen; if it happens, it will not be peaceful and therefore unsustainable and temporary, a danger China faces. Often nations that get the internal and external stability formulae right overreach themselves in their hubris by rising beyond their capacities. The present decline of the United States provides a ready example. In seeking artificially to stabilize the external environment for greater or sustained rise at old levels, nations like the United States cease exhibiting a democratic character and temperament. Once that happens, they make blunders that render them indistinguishable from non-democratic totalitarian states.

In its peaceful, democratic rise, India will not commit these blunders. The Government of India does not use the term “rise” in standard discourse; “rise” has negative connotations. But even if it is not employed, the fact remains that India is rising, and a lot of nations of South East Asia, the Asia-Pacific region and Africa have questions about it, which the Ministry of External Affairs’ public diplomacy does not address. India emphatically is a non-colonial, non-imperialistic, non-expansionistic power. This simple truth must be widely disseminated. India wishes to exemplify an alternate model of rise; one that is democratic, occurs on the strength of people’s will, and benefits all sections. Its soft power needs special emphasis.

Ultimately, it boils down to publicizing Indian democracy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the cynosure of all eyes at the East Asia and G-20 Summits. Why? Because he is the prime minister of the largest democracy. He represents 1.2 billion people which gives staggering credibility to any political leader on the world stage. India is not doing enough to promote this strength. It is not promoting democracy more actively than it should.

There are problems on that course certainly. A democracy cannot always choose its interlocutors. But if it makes the central democratic tenets of its nationhood clear and unambiguous, it will be respected and appreciated the more for it. In non-Western countries, India has huge equity; exploited by China, African nations, for example, are looking towards India for a democratic and equitable basis of friendship and cooperation; they eagerly await Prime Minister Modi’s visit whenever that happens. In East Asia, similarly, hope rides on India to counterbalance China with peaceful rise. Essentially, the non-Western world needs reassurances that India is with them, and that democratic engagement and partnership would be at the core of its peaceful rise.

Editor’s note: On return, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should make it the first order of business to visit Chhattisgarh and bring solace to those affected by the sterilization tragedy.