Nirmala Sitharaman focuses on India and its soft power

Indian armed personnel performing asanas on International Day of Yoga on June 21. Picture credit: AFP

Nirmala Sitharaman's maiden Union Budget speech as India's first full-time female Finance Minister covered a broad spectrum of sectors. While the usual suspects -- banking, taxation, rural and urban affairs, transport -- got their due share of airtime, a lesser-expected topic like India's soft power found its way into the speech. 

Opening the section with the mention of International Yoga Day, commemorated on June 21 every year, Sitharaman mentioned that for the last three years, yoga has been practiced in 192 countries in large numbers on the said day. This year marked the fifth anniversary of International Day of Yoga.       

Talking about how India's soft power is being appreciated, she highlighted that lead artists in 40 countries sang 'Vaishnav Jan To, Tene Kahiye Je,' Mahatma Gandhi's favourite bhajan. Another thing that Sitharaman spoke about was the "Bharat ko Jaano" quiz competition which she claimed was reeling in not just NRI, but also foreign participants.  

What came next was a proposition to consider issuance of Aadhaar Card to NRIs with Indian passports after their arrival in India, slashing the 180-day waiting period.

Diplomacy

On the diplomacy front, Sitharaman mentioned that in March 2018, the Indian government had approved 18 new Indian Diplomatic Missions in Africa out of which five Embassies - Rwanda, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Guinea and Burkina Faso - were opened in 2018-19.

Four new embassies are underway and will be up and running by 2019-20. This, she said, will help expand India's overseas footprint along and also the local Indian diaspora. These Diplomatic Missions were a part of the Government's decision to open Indian Embassies and High Commissions in countries where India does not have a Resident Diplomatic Mission. 

Indian Development Assistance Scheme (IDEAS) was another scheme that she drew attention to and proposed to revamp the same. The basic idea of the scheme is to provide
concessional financing for projects and contribute to infrastructure development and capacity building in developing countries. 

In 2015, a year after coming to power for the first time, the Modi government had approved IDEAS to streamline Lines of Credit (LOC) offered to various countries in South Asia, South East Asia, Africa and Central America. This was reportedly done to counter the rising number of China-funded projects in the developing world.

Keeping up the tradition   

Sitharaman proposed a mission that would help amalgamate traditional artisans and their products with global markets. In the process, patents and Geographical Indicator (GI) tags will be obtained for their products, when necessary. She also touched upon the idea of intellectual property rights protection. 

An interesting thing that she hinted upon was the development of a digital repository focusing solely on preservation of tribal cultural heritage - documents, folk songs, photos and videos regarding their evolution, place of origin, lifestyle, architecture, education level, traditional art, folk dances and other anthropological details of the tribes in India. The same, she said, will be strengthened going forward.

Tourism 

Seventeen iconic tourism sites are being developed into world-class tourism destinations in a bid to give a push to both domestic and international tourism at the concerned spots, she said. These sites would serve as a model for other tourism sites, she added.

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