India to showcase its soft power in US, France: Karan Singh (Interview)

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) It has taken India almost a quarter of a century to open a cultural centre in Washington. The hurdles have been finally cleared and New Delhi will very soon be able to showcase its “soft power” in the world’s most powerful nation, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) president Karan Singh said.

Apart from the US, India will also open a cultural centre in Paris.
Karan Singh, a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, said he had first proposed a cultural cell in the US in 1989.
“I had moved in a proposal for a cultural centre when I was the ambassador to the US in 1989. It is only now that we have finally managed to buy a property there thanks to (former Indian ambassador to the US) Nirupama Rao. She has been really helpful,” Karan Singh told IANS in an interview.
“We have also bought a nice property in Paris. One would think we should have done these things earlier, but it was only in 2013 that we managed to clinch a good deal,” he added, saying that India would now be able to effectively project its soft power – power to attract other countries and people – through its multi-facted and multi-dimensional culture.
With the new additions, ICCR will have 40 cultural centres spread across the globe in cities like London Moscow, Berlin, Johannesburg, Tehran, Cairo, Beijing, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Astana, Tashkent, Seoul, Suva (Fiji) and Phoenix (Mauritius).
Karan Singh, also a writer, philosopher and scholar, who has been presiding over ICCR since August 2005, is happy that India’s ‘Look East’ policy has also provided fertile ground for cultural exchanges between India and Southeast Asian countries.
“This policy has come out very well. We have many bilateral cultural exchanges with these nations, which are linked to us for over 1,000 years through Buddhism and Hinduism,” said the 82-year-old.
He is also very pleased about the impact of the ICCR’s most ambitious cultural gala – Europalia.India – a four-month-long festival in Brussels that comprised around 350 objects selected from 55 museums and private collectors from all over the world. It was launched last October.
The main exhibition “The Body in Indian Art”, curated by Naman Ahuja, is also displayed at Bozar, the Palais des Beaux Arts (Centre for Fine Arts), a complex spanning 30,000 square metres spread over eight levels in the heart of Brussels’ museum district.
In the gala, over 300 events showcasing Indian art and antiquities, music and dance, performances, cinema, theatre, literature, thought and cuisine were presented.
Some of them also travelled to 200 partner venues across Europe.
“Museums are reluctant to give their artefacts. So, I had to write personal letters to the chief ministers of various states. I also telephoned them to put in my request. I guess personal attention was required for this project and I have given my 100 percent.
“This is how we were able to take the best from the history to the world. I am happy that this effort has been appreciated. We have received good response from visitors,” he added, saying around 1,000 people visited the gallery every day to see what India has to offer.
Though he refused to state the exact amount invested in the project, he said it involved a great deal of planning and expenditure and attempts were made not to overspend.
“We took care of insurance and some things they (the host country) took care of,” Karan Singh told IANS.
Karan Singh, who takes pride in calling himself a Shaivite (a devotee of Shiva), always wears an “Om Namah Shivaya” bracelet and carries a string of ‘rudraksha’ beads in his pocket, now wants to bring this exhibition to India.
“I now want the people of India to see what we presented to the world. I am already in talks with the National Museum to mount it there. I am hopeful people will see the grandeur of it,” he said.
Asked what the returns of this kind of investment were, he just said: “Priceless.
“In culture, you can’t really quantify returns because these are intangible returns in goodwill. It not only means additional tourists but also raises India’s image in the world.
“These are things you can’t put a price on. But it is clear that this is a part of India’s soft power diplomacy,” he said.
“What ICCR tries to do is to present multi-cultural facets of the Indian diaspora and covers India’s vibrant culture. It is not a uni-dimensional image we want to present; we want to present a multi-dimensional image,” he added.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at [email protected])