India boasts of a very rich cultural heritage, from its ancient era to medieval past and the modern times. The presence of our art forms across the globe has been magnificent enough to exhibit India’s cultural diplomacy which sometimes even goes on to sweeten the country’s relations with its rivals. Thanks to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), founded in 1950 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, independent India’s first Education Minister, India has established itself as a major ‘soft power’ whom the world turns to for artistic and spiritual inspiration. Its objectives are to actively participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and programs pertaining to India’s external cultural relations; to foster and strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries; to promote cultural exchanges with other countries and people; and to develop relations with other nations.
To discuss India’s art and culture scene outside the country and ICCR’s endeavors in this regard, Ramesh Kumar Raja had a wide ranging conversation with C. Rajasekhar, Director General, ICCR. He was till recently the Indian Ambassador to Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti. Previously he served as Minister, Political Media and Education in London, Minister in Seoul, Counsellor in Port of Spain, First Secretary/Head of Chancery in Tokyo, Second Secretary in Ulaanbaatar and Third Secretary/Second Secretary in Tokyo. A career diplomat, Rajasekhar had been instrumental in organizing a number of cultural events abroad.
How do you look at India’s art and culture scene outside the country? Where do we stand in the world?
Indian art and culture is well known all over the world. Significant contribution in this regard is being made by various ministries and departments of the central and state governments like External Affairs, ICCR, Culture, Tourism, Commerce & Industry, Overseas Indian Affairs, Textiles (& Handicrafts), Human Resource Development, Cultural Academies/organizations and so on. Popularity of Indian art and culture differs from country to country, which depends on two aspects – (a) receptiveness and interest of the local population and government and (b) initiatives taken by us. India is in an enviable position as far as use of cultural diplomacy as a tool to promote India’s overall interest, specifically to enhance its economic contribution to the world society is concerned. This is due to our long, rich and diverse cultural heritage.
Recently, ICCR organized International Conference of Indologists. Could you share the idea and how it is going to help the study of India in different countries of the world?
The purpose of promoting Indian art and culture abroad is to be friends with the world. This message is spread all over the world through ancient Indian adage, “VASADHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM” and it is an ongoing effort through the modern day art and culture which ranges from Indian studies, visual art, classical and folk dances and music to the present day Bollywood films. History is the witness that India has survived through many ups and downs in the past thanks to the strong roots of Indian culture based on ancient Indian literature and studies. A lot has been researched about India all over the world in the past. The idea behind organizing the Indology Conference was to renew the interest of foreign scholars in Indian studies and to celebrate the Study of India.
What is/are missing to place India on top with regard to cultural diplomacy?
We can do, of course, more with greater allocation of resources. With the coordinated effort of various governmental/non-governmental agencies and individuals, a lot is being done to promote India’s rich cultural heritage. India is a leading nation as far as cultural diplomacy is concerned. A lot more is being envisaged by continuing this collective effort to sustain and upgrade the position that India has achieved so far in the field of cultural diplomacy.
Majority of people in India are not serious about their own culture and art forms whereas the foreigners are getting attracted to our culture. What are the weak areas?
This cannot be said for sure that majority of the people in India are not serious about their own culture and art forms. India is a vast country in terms of its population and it has enormous talent in each segment of its art and culture. More funding support and incentives for the people pursuing various fields of art and culture can further broaden the scope in this regard.
How is the ICCR involved in the promotion of India’s “cultural diversity”?
ICCR promotes Indian culture as a whole through its international activities related to exchange in the fields of performing art, visual art, academics, publications, scholarships for foreigners irrespective of their nationalities to study in various parts of India, publications, conferences, talks, lectures and seminars on different topics and so on. In all this, ICCR always endeavors to project India’s diverse cultural heritage.
Being someone closely associated with cultural centres across the globe, what do you think needs to be done to restore the beauty of fading arts in India as well as abroad?
Beauty of Indian art and culture is quite vibrant both in India and abroad. Not only Indians, but also foreigners are proudly promoting art and culture in India and abroad. By continuing our collective efforts, the identity and presence of Indian art and culture can further be strengthened. We need to synergize our efforts, for example, through collaborative efforts with our counterpart organizations to optimize the effort.
What sort of policy intervention the Indian art and culture needs for its betterment?
Indian art and culture is very rich in its contents. This richness of contents always attracted from people all over the world to follow India and its culture. We need to continue with our coordinated efforts among governmental and non-governmental agencies to further strengthen our art and culture. More coordinated effort and greater allocation of resources would be greatly welcome.