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Importance of soft power is increasing globally: ICCR chief Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) president and BJP MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) president and BJP MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe speaks to The Hindu about ICCR’s future programmes, how it is handling the lockdown and its legacy as it marks its foundation day on Thursday.

April 9 will mark the 70th anniversary of the ICCR’s foundation. Looking back, what do you think has been its legacy and how, if at all, do you see it changing in your tenure? What are the reforms that you have undertaken with regard to ICCR?

ICCR has a great history and many stalwarts had shouldered this responsibility. What I myself and our team is doing is to take the legacy ahead and also further add value in tune with the changing times. ICCR was established when there was neither the concept of soft power nor was the term in use. Naturally then, the activities were limited in terms of their number and their diverse character as well. Majorly, it was about scholarships to foreign students, cultural exchanges involving artistes and youths as also establishing some Chairs in some universities etc. Now, we are in a world where every nation wants to influence and occupy the mind space of the global community and thereby add to its prowess. In a way the limitations of military might are now more obvious and hence the importance of soft power is increasing.

On reforms, we are trying to fine-tune certain systems and galvanise the entire functioning in keeping with the modern times. India enjoys a groundswell of goodwill, but the challenge is to translate this goodwill into understanding of India. To that end we plan to start academic programmes like an Understanding India course, cultural exchange between future leaders, mainstreaming of our traditional artisans through exchange with similar artisans abroad and converting Chairs into full-fledged India Study Centres abroad.

This time the foundation day happens to be during the lockdown imposed to curb COVID-19, so how will it be celebrated in India and around the world? And, what are the initiatives being rolled out by ICCR during the lockdown?

Three things could be shared. Firstly we are utilising this time for preparing to make a new beginning in some areas of academic courses through a more structured system of knowledge dissemination and evaluation as well as certification. Secondly, with the ‘Show Must Go On’ spirit, we have successfully started conducting e-tutorials and classes on a wide range of subjects including classical dances, Hindi, Sanskrit and even Yoga. Thirdly, in the wake of all pervading gloom and tensions as a result of pandemic, we have announced a global painting competition and also an essay competition for NRIs and alumni of Indian institutions. We always believe that centrality of cultural relations will eventually promote our diplomatic, strategic as well as economic relationships.

Among the activities of the ICCR is promotion of Hindi. Are there any plans on expanding these activities, for example the number of scholarships for foreign students here and Chairs set up in foreign universities?

Well, not just Hindi, but promotion of all languages from India is something we want to work for. In Israel, there are many Marathi speaking Jews. Now if they demand a Marathi class, we may accept even that. Same is true with Tamil, Bengali, Sanskrit or Gujarati. We have started using Amar Chitra Katha type comics to conduct language training. But this is also to some extent demand-driven. Now even Georgia Tech University in U.S.A. has started Hindi classes. About scholarships, we desire to increase them but getting good and eligible students also becomes an issue. And about Chairs, as I said we are reviewing their performance and exploring the idea of converting them into full-fledged India Study Centres.

You’ve spoken about the need for India to become an education hub for foreign students. What is the strategy for increasing the number of foreign students, and what exactly will be ICCR’s role in the ‘Destination India’ project? And what impact do you hope it will have on India’s soft power around the world?

Well, the role of ICCR is limited considering the fact that this is a humongous task and multiple agencies are involved in this. However, since this is a knowledge era and since alumni of Indian institutions form an important segment of India’s soft power, we decided to take initiative and organised the first of its kind national convention on ‘Destination India’ last January in Pune. Today, India ranks 26th as a destination country whereas we are third as a source country. We have to move up fast to be a leader of the global knowledge society. It was with this objective that we had organised this convention and now we are ready with a plan of action too. After this coronavirus crisis, we will once again work with the NITI Aayog and several other ministries to achieve this larger objective.


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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 2:30:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/importance-of-soft-power-is-increasing-globally-iccr-chief-vinay-sahasrabuddhe/article31292723.ece

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