India projecting its soft power globally: ICCR chief
Armed with the global appeal of Bollywood, the country's multimillion dollar movie industry in Mumbai, and the power of yoga, India has launched a massive exercise to project its soft power across the world, says Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) director general Virendra Gupta.
"The primary focus now is to carry India's soft power - the power of its popular and traditional culture - to all the Asian countries," the director general said in an interview.
Gupta inaugurated an ICCR centre in Bangkok on Sep 22 followed by one in Tokyo Sep 25.
"In a month's time, we will set up another centre in Kuala Lumpur followed by cells in Dhaka and Abu Dhabi," he said.
"The new overseas centres fall within the matrix of our overall foreign policy in which soft power (culture) is a major component. The expansion of cultural presence is one of the new goals of India's foreign policy and that was why additional funds were made available to us," Gupta said.
He said yoga was a new soft power "that was gaining rapid global acceptance".
"Indian yoga is a huge hit abroad. All our 15 overseas centre have one yoga teacher. They teach four to five groups of foreign students every day. Each group comprises nearly 60 learners," Gupta said.
Indian yoga teachers are also sent out by the ICCR overseas cells to conduct classes, workshops and camps in open public spaces and universities, Gupta said.
"Bollywood, however, still remains a big draw as a soft power," Gupta said.
The ICCR aims to set up 16 new centres over the next two years, the director general said. "It will almost double the number of ICCR cells from 24 to 40 overseas. We want to expand our footprints globally, but at this moment we want to concentrate on countries that were hitherto neglected."
India now has 24 cultural centres in 21 countries. Gupta disclosed that two more cells in Myanmar and Pakistan were also on the radar and "the ICCR is scouting for land".
"Our primary aim is to teach Indian music, dance and Hindi, the national language, to people of the country where the centres are located. We haven't developed any uniform template for the purpose, but we want to build a corpus of local teachers of Indian culture abroad who can teach the beginners. India-based teachers can teach foreign students at an advance level," Gupta said, defining the blueprint for "projecting India's soft power abroad".
Explaining Moscow as an example, he said: "The Moscow centre has more local teachers trained in Indian music and dances than Indian teachers. Russians, as a race, appreciate Indian culture and are keen to know more about it."
The overseas ICCR centres are usually equipped with "libraries and teaching faculties", he said.
The ICCR is also liaising with education institutions - both state and private institutes in the country and abroad - for short "cultural education exchange programmes and fellowships for students".
"We are trying to make the ICCR overseas cells hubs of cultural activity promoting both Indian and local culture. Cultural diplomacy generates greater bilateral goodwill," Gupta said.
But India is yet to stamp its cultural footprints in many countries that are important culturally.
"The US, a nation that is so significant culturally, does not have any ICCR cell, along with Paris, which is the cultural capital of Europe. The two culture capitals are on ICCR's must-do list," he said.
Africa also figures high on ICCR's expansion agenda. "We will set up overseas cells in Nigeria and Tanzania."
The concept of soft power was first propounded by Harvard professor Josesph Nye, who said countries like the US and India had inherent cultural virtues with the power to influence other countries and societies to their thinking and point of view.
He called it "soft power" as opposed to the "hard power" of nations used to influence and coerce countries with military muscle and economic might.