The Indian Council for Cultural Relations is undergoing rapid expansion as New Delhi seeks to project the country’s soft power.
Beyond just opening new centres, the ICCR is also leveraging independent Indian cultural groups and university chairs to spread understanding of India.
Thanks to rapid expansion last year, ICCR has 24 centres around the world. It plans to add 15 new centres in the coming year, said outgoing chief Virender Gupta. “Five of these will come up in the next two to three months.” Four of these five will be in India’s neighbourhood, including Myanmar and Bhutan.
ICCR, an arm of the ministry of external affairs, has also aggressively moved to set visiting professorships and chairs in Indian studies in foreign universities. Thirty such chairs have been set up. More are on their way. “There will be 80-90 such chairs around the world when we are done,” says Gupta.
The council is working to make the chairs “virtual hubs of Indian studies”. Programmes for youth audiences and lecture tours are being linked to institutions that have received ICCR endowments. “The chairs are working better than expected,” said Gupta.
Related to the university focus has been ICCR’s move to sponsor academic seminars. “We used to be about performing arts. The visual arts were added. Now academic programmes have become a bulwark of the council’s activities.”
ICCR has introduced 30 fellowships to bring foreign scholars to India and offers 3,500 scholarships for overseas students, 1600 of which go to Afghans.
The once iconic “festivals of India” have been resurrected. After the initial festivals in the 1980s, says Gupta, “there was a hiatus of 20 years.” They were revived in 2006. “This year we have two long festivals in China and France and half-a-dozen shorter ones in seven other countries.”
Though ICCR has seen its budget nearly triple to Rs 1.6 billion over the past five years and has received strong political support, it has been assisted by a heightened international interest in India because of its economic rise.