Hoping to take bharatnatyam and yoga to places they have never been, India is planning to come up with at least eight new cultural centres in different parts of the world to use its soft power to spread its influence in regions of interest.

With cultural diplomacy high on agenda, India opened new cultural centres this year in as many as seven country capitals, including Kathmandu, Kabul and Tokyo.

With 22 cultural centres already established around the world, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), one of the cultural wings of the Indian government, is planning to take that number between 30 to 35 by next year.

“To intensify cultural exchanges, you need a platform to expand your outreach and cultural centres act like one. We hope to add 15 new such centres around the world in the two years from 2009 to 2010,” said Virendra Gupta, Director General, ICCR.

Given that South Asia is “India’s priority number one” on the cultural diplomacy front, New Delhi will shortly open up its cultural branches in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.

“Our cultural centres in Dhaka and Thimphu will come up by February next and the one in Myanmar by mid next year,” the official said.

Besides acting as a platform to hold events like exhibitions, film screenings and festivals, such centres also provide local populations an interface with Indian arts like classical dances and the extremely popular yoga.

“In Pakistan and Maldives we have no immediate plans to open a centre but we would definitely like to have a presence in these countries,” Mr. Gupta said when asked about India’s presence in the neighbouring country.

In cultural centres around the world, the ICCR makes sure the presence of a yoga teacher.

“Yoga is extremely popular. In our cultural centres worldwide we maintain three-four teachers for Indian dances depending on the requirement in each country, but a yoga teacher is a constant in every such facility,” Mr. Gupta said.

India’s policy of extending its influence, he said, has intensified lately given an increase in curiosity about the country all over the world.

“Particularly because India is doing well in the economic and political scene, people want to know what is right about India, and they want to familiarise themselves with Indian culture, dance and folk arts,” he said.

India also plans to establish such a presence in Latin America where it is planning to open cultural centres in Brazil and Mexico next year, besides two more in Africa.

Countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, Hungary and China already have Indian cultural centres.

Asked if India’s greater emphasis on soft power as an instrument of foreign policy had something to do with China’s growing influence in South Asia, Gupta said India’s policy was “not reactive“.

“It is India’s long-term policy objective to promote cultural connectivity with neighbours, as also with countries beyond the region,” he said.