Context: April 9 will mark the 70th anniversary of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR’s) foundation. 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 hence the importance of soft power is increasing.

What is soft power?

  • Coined by Nye in the late 1980s, the term "soft power" -- the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion.
  • Nye’s three pillars of soft power are: political values, culture, and foreign policy.
  • Hard power Vs. Soft power: Hard power is easy to measure.  We can count the number of missiles and tanks and troops. 
    • Soft power shuns the traditional foreign policy tools of carrot and stick, seeking instead to achieve influence by building networks, communicating compelling narratives, establishing international rules, and drawing on the resources that make a country naturally attractive to the world.

Significance of cultural relations in soft power: The centrality of cultural relations will eventually promote our diplomatic, strategic as well as economic relationships.India enjoys a groundswell of goodwill, but the challenge is to translate this goodwill into understanding of India. 

India’s soft power initiatives: Majorly, it is about scholarships to foreign students, cultural exchanges involving artistes and youths as also establishing some Chairs in some universities etc. 

  • ICCR is using Amar Chitra Katha type comics to conduct language training. Now even Georgia Tech University in U.S.A. has started Hindi classes. 
  • About scholarships, ICCR desires to increase them but getting good and eligible students also becomes an issue. 
  • The need for India to become an education hub for foreign students
    • 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. 
    • Since this is a knowledge era and since alumni of Indian institutions form an important segment of India’s soft power, ICCR organised the first of its kind national convention on ‘Destination India’.

The initiatives being rolled out by ICCR during the lockdown

  • ICCR is  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. 
  • It has successfully started conducting e-tutorials and classes on a wide range of subjects including classical dances, Hindi, Sanskrit and even Yoga. 
    • It announced a global painting competition and also an essay competition for NRIs and alumni of Indian institutions. 

Future initiatives: There is a 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.

About the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) 

  • The Indian Council for Cultural Relations, is an autonomous organisation of the Government of India, involved in India's external cultural relations, through cultural exchange with other countries and their peoples.
  • It was founded in 1950 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, independent India’s first Education Minister.
  • Its objectives are to actively participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes 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 nations.

India should work on further strengthening its own democratic credentials and opt for a people-based approach towards democracy promotion rather than a state-based approach.

Image Source: Cambridge University Press