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The Uses of Public and Cultural Diplomacy

Balaji Chandramohan is editor of World Security Network for Asia.
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  • August 17, 2011

    With India’s ascendance in global affairs, its Foreign Policy establishment has to necessarily increase its international footprint. This can be done by fostering better trade and economic relations and at the political level through public and cultural diplomacy.

    The Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs was established in May 2006. So far, this Division has reached out more to countries where the Indian diaspora is concentrated and has sought to attract them to come to India and study through the “Know India Program”. The results are positive as evident from the steady increase in the number of delegates attending the annual ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’ conducted for the Indian diaspora. The PD Division has also marketed the “Brand India” image as part of its outreach to a global audience. More recently, in 2010, the Ministry of External Affairs uploaded on its website nearly 200 videos narrating the culture, politics and history of India. Among these is a documentary film on Kashmir titled “Integral India” which projects the secular fabric of the Kashmir valley.

    But, much more needs to be done in terms of tapping media resources as pointed out by the former Foreign Secretary as well as through the use of modern communication tools. For instance, Indian Embassies and High Commissions need to maintain attractive and user-friendly websites to attract growing online audiences in this information age.

    In December 2010, the Ministry of External Affairs along with the Centre for Media Studies held a two-day conference and workshop titled “Public Diplomacy in the Information Age”. Attended by scholars, journalists, business leaders and diplomats, the conference was aimed at exploring India’s public diplomacy potential. The conference helped reach some key conclusions as well as the reasons for embarking upon active Public Diplomacy. These include the fact that the international system today is multi-polar in nature, the growing power of non-state actors including non-government organisations, multi-national corporations and individuals, as well as the dawn of the information age marked by instant communications. Under these circumstances, the old style of diplomacy is not sufficient and there is a need for “Public Diplomacy” in order to enable the state to persuade key actors to back its decisions in the international arena. Moreover, Indian diplomacy has to exploit systems and active communication tools such as twitter, blogs, facebook, etc. that are symbols of an increasingly interconnected world. It is thus time that Indian diplomats took up Public Diplomacy and its tools to convey their message to a global audience.
    Another aspect that Indian diplomacy can leverage is Indian culture and civilization which date back to 5000 years. Here again, much more can be done in addition to existing efforts. For instance, the ICCR, founded in 1950, maintains only 24 cultural centres outside India to project Indian culture to local people. Although 15 new cultural centres are to be opened shortly, many more will be needed in the coming years. It is to be noted that the American Cultural Centre and the British Council have their presence in more than 100 countries. The ICCR also facilitates scholarships and exchange programmes for students and scholars. But the numbers of such scholarships have to increase for a greater impact. In addition, these cultural centres need to finetune their activities in accordance with local needs. For example, in countries where there is a large Indian diaspora such as Fiji, South Africa and the Caribbean countries, these cultural centres chould facilitate more scholarships programmes for the youth in the diaspora to study in Indian universities.
    If India is to graduate from being a regional power in South Asia to a great power in the Asia-Pacific, the Indian Foreign Policy establishment has to effectively tap all available resources and seek ways of projecting the country’s soft power. Leveraging public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy is key for this purpose.