The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is the government’s arm that projects Indian culture abroad. Of late, it seems to be getting busy than ever, as it plans to go on an overdrive in taking cultural diplomacy to the next higher level. On its agenda is a long “to do” list that includes opening a number of cultural centres across the globe. But more importantly, it is busy in conceptualising two mega India festivals in Beijing and France in 2010 and the celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore in 2011. ICCR director general Virendra Gupta, who is the man behind all the action, speaks to Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on the action-packed agenda ahead:
ICCR is opening a number of cultural centres across the world in the near future. What are the long-term goals?
We have recently opened cultural centres in Bangkok and Tokyo and will soon set up two more in Washington and Paris. We have firmed up plans for similar centres in Abu Dhabi, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. In the next two years, we plan to set up 15 such centres across the world, and we hope to establish at least half of them within this financial years. There will be 40 cultural centres across the globe in the next two years as against 24 now in 21 countries now. All SAARC nations would have such centres. Right now, we have centres in Nepal and Sri Lanka and the one in Dhaka would open soon. ICCR has also identified a property in Bhutan and made a proposal to Myanmar to set up such a centre. We also have a great desire to set up a centre in Pakistan.
What are the major cultural activities on the anvil abroad?
We are planning two mega India festivals in China and France, and mini festivals in at least a dozen countries, including in Australia, Oman and Brazil. While the exact programmes will be firmed up in consultation with the host countries, we plan to focus on a balanced representation of the vast cultural diversity of India. China is particularly interested in contemporary young India, and particularly Bollywood cinema. We are in fact devising an exhibition of film posters which will travel to various countries. France is soon going to host ‘Bonjour India’ in our country, and we will reciprocate by organizing ‘Namaste France’, which will comprise a lot of cultural activities and a huge exhibition on miniature arts.
How does ICCR decide what kind of programmes would be organised in various countries?
It depends on the feedback from the countries involved. We try to involve local intelligentsia and the governments in devising the programmes. We do not have a fixed template for this, and we take the help of local organisations, including those representing people of Indian origin in various countries. For example, in Trinidad & Tobago, we have set up an advisory committee comprising leading cultural personalities there. We believe our activities would succeed only if we involve local people.
2011 will be the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. Considering the global interest in his writings, is ICCR planning events to commemorate it?
Definitely. We will have big events in Kolkata and Delhi, and there will be major activities in various countries considering the fact that there is a lot of interest in his ideas, writings and philosophy all over the world. We are in the process of developing various ideas in this regard.
ICCR also is involved in lot of academic activities. What’s the latest in this regard?
We are putting great emphasis on our academic programmes. At any point of time, there are about 3,500 foreign students in India for whom ICCR is the nodal agency for welfare issues. We also have a strong programme of setting up Indian chairs in academic institutions abroad, and we have around 60-70 chairs on right now. In this, we have decided to now put emphasis on short-term chair programmes instead of long-term ones, since that will give us the opportunity to go into more countries within the same available budget.