In the information age, as Joseph Nye, the guru of software, argues, it is not the side with the bigger army, but the side with the better story, that wins. India is already the "land of the better story." As a pluralist society with a free and thriving mass media, creative energies that express themselves in a variety of appealing ways, and a democratic system that promotes and protects diversity, India has an extraordinary ability to tell stories that are more persuasive and attractive than those of its rivals.
And there's the international spin-off of India just being itself.
India's remarkable pluralism was on display after national elections in May 2004, when a leader with a Roman Catholic background (Sonia Gandhi) made way for a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) to be sworn in as prime minister by a Muslim (then Indian president Abdul Kalam) -- in a country that is 81 percent Hindu.
No strutting nationalist chauvinism could ever have accomplished for India's standing in the world what that one moment did -- all the more so since it was not directed at the world.
There's still much for India to do to ensure that its people are healthy, well fed, and secure. Progress is being made: The battle against poverty is slowly (too slowly) being won. But India's greatest prospects for winning admiration in the 21st century may lie not in what it does, but simply in what it is.
Shashi Tharoor is the author of The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone: Reflections on India in the 21st Century.
Copyright: Project Syndicate