The Jakarta Post
In April 2011, a video of First Brig. Norman Kamaru lip-synching to the Hindi song 'Chaiyya Chaiyya' went viral. The then 26-year-old policeman from Gorontalo became an overnight star and YouTube sensation.
Watching the six-and-a-half minute video, you can see why. Very convincingly, he mouths the lyrics and mimics the movements of Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan, who sang the song in the 1998 Hindi film Dil Se (From the Heart). Norman's instant fame garnered him a ton of interviews, appearances on television talk shows and even recording offers.
Why was the Indonesian public so taken by Norman's Bollywood foray? Well, besides the fact that he was a policeman and his engaging performance, the popularity of the song and the film also helped.
Bollywood films have long had a place in the hearts of Indonesian audiences, but lately it's said to have reached feverish proportions, popular not just in urban, but also rural areas.
Given Indonesian's love story with Indian films and songs, I wonder why the Indian Embassy bothers to organize the Festival of India (FOI) each year.
Well, why does Coca Cola keep on advertising when it's already so well known? It's to do with branding, creating a unique name and image to distinguish yourself from others.
In this way, countries are like companies too, and cultural diplomacy, or soft power ' the ability to attract, persuade and co-opt ' is the way to create 'Brand India' or whatever country it may be. Ultimately it's about self-benefit.
This year's four-month festival is called Sahabat India (Friends of India). Given that the two countries have such long-standing links, Gurjit Singh, India's ambassador to Indonesia, said the festival is more of a tribute to the enduring relationship between the two nations.
'There is a little bit of India in every bit of Indonesia,' Singh claims. 'Well, being born in New Delhi, and having India in my middle name [Indiati], how could I disagree?'
As soft powers go, India's is actually pretty impressive, covering a wide range of fields. As one writer put it, 'from Buddha to Bollywood to BPOs'. BPO, in case you didn't know (I didn't!) is business process outsourcing, the fastest growing segment of information technology enabled services (ITES).
Personally, I am more familiar with yoga and Indian cuisine, as I imagine most people are, than with BPOs, because both touch people's lives in a direct way.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood this well, which is the whole point of soft power. Last year, in an address to the UN General Assembly, he urged the UN to support the promotion of yoga around the world and succeeded in having the UN declare June 21, 2014, as International Yoga Day.
India is already a superpower with lots of hard power ' it's the world's largest democracy, it has the second-largest population and the third-largest economy in the world (gross domestic product based on purchasing power parity valuation), the fourth most powerful military and top 10 global operations are headed by Indians ' and India still felt it was important to have an International Yoga Day?
That's because, as Shashi Tharoor, a prominent Indian politician and award-winning writer, said in a 2009 TED talk, in today's world and in the information era, it's not the size of a country's army, but a country's ability to influence the world's hearts and minds that matters.
That should be a cinch, right, for Indonesia? The country is famous for its super friendly people, rich and diverse culture and cuisine, weird and wacky customs, great beaches, amazing wildlife, incredible biodiversity, pleasant tropical climate, great tourist destinations ' the list goes on.
But, the reality is, Indonesia is losing the soft-power race. In terms of tourism alone it's lost out to 'Incredible India' and 'Malaysia Truly Asia'. Even Thailand has done better. Often, and certainly recently, the image of Indonesia that comes to mind and proliferates in the news, is of rampant corruption, natural disasters, deforestation, environmental degradation, terrorism, drug smuggling, a land of smokers (ranking number three in the world) and plane crashes.
When Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo became President, he had a lot of soft power momentum, riding on a wave of popular support, presenting a new image of a leader who was out to win people's hearts and minds.
But day by day, he has fallen short of our expectations: in his overly compromised choice of Cabinet ministers (with 21 out of 34 ministers linked to his political backers), in his nomination of Comr. Gen. Budi Gunawan, a corruption suspect, as a candidate for head of the police, in the way he handled the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) versus the police debacle and, most recently, by reportedly allowing the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build an Indonesian car between a little known company and the Malaysian carmaker Proton. Was it because the company was owned by AM Hendropriyono, one of his political supporters, who incidentally is often linked to various human rights abuses?
Last but not least, Jokowi's hard-headed refusal to grant clemency to convicted drug-traffickers, even Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, two of the so-called Bali Nine, who in their 10 years of incarceration reformed themselves, shows a cruel, heartless, unforgiving face of Indonesia. In any case, Jokowi's claim of a national drug 'emergency', which 'necessitates' the death penalty, is based on false statistics. Oops!
In the end, Jokowi is 'hard' when he should be 'soft' and soft when he should be hard. That amounts to being an effete leader.
Easy come, easy go, they say. Norman's instant celebrityhood was a flash in the pan. He was fired from the police, his career as an artist 'put on hold' and now he has to be content selling Manado porridge with his wife Desi.
Is Jokowi's popularity ' and leadership ' also a flash in the pan?
The writer is the author of Julia's Jihad
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