NEW DELHI:The Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) cultural arm the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) is looking for donors to help promote Indian culture abroad. With almost 40 percent drop in the number of ‘chairs’ operating in the foreign universities in the last a few years, ICCR may soon reach out to the corporate world to fund the establishment of new learning centres.
The public-private-partnership model, so often used in building infrastructure, will extend to the hard-selling India’s soft power abroad through Yoga. ICCR has prepared a proposal to engage cultural-religious organisations like ISCKON, Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of living, Baba Ramdev, Rama Krishna Mission to give Yoga teachers, who could not just teach yogic exercises, but even talk about the philosophical aspect of the Yoga through India’s 80 cultural centres abroad. When the world celebrates its first International Yoga Day on June 21, MEA will go into overdrive to hold festivals abroad.
With the “culture oriented” government in power, ICCR is looking at spreading its wings. The ICCR had over 101 operational chairs – study centres in universities abroad till November, 2013, but due to “cost constraints” shut nearly 24 chairs in countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany (3 Chairs), Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, UK and USA (2 Chairs).
ICCR’s newly appointed chairman, Prof Lokesh Chandra says chairs in foreign universities help in spreading and popularising Indian culture and studies in foreign universities. Many of these chairs ceased to exist after the scholars holding them passed away.
“We want to put more emphasis on cultural aspect of India. At the moment, several Indian languages were being researched or taught there, we want to give more emphasis on Sanksrit and cultural studies. Even philosophic and academic aspect of the Yoga. But as much depends on the budget, we are also looking at PPP model so that can fund some of these chairs. Like someone is willing to fund the stay of a professor there for some time, but it will be under the patronage of the ICCR,” says 89-year-old Chandra. A Sanskrit scholar, who has close to 600 books to his credit. Chandra has been two-time Rajya Sabha MP, and even was chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research.
“Look at the Chinese they have set up over 480 Confucius Institutes across the world to promote their language and culture. Funded by their government, these centre acts as an important link to promote relations between the countries through culture,” Chandra says adding that to become powerful culture consciousness has to be strengthen internationally.
MEA selects and sends professors and associate professors to foreign universities for a period ranging from one year to several months. Last year, it announced filling up of several vacancies. In October last year, ICCR appointed Jamia Millia Islamia Professor Amiya Prosad Sen to head Heinrich Zimmer Chair for Indian Philosophy and Intellectual History at South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University in Germany. Dr. Sonia Jasrotia from University of Jammu was selected as the visiting professor chair of Buddhist and Sanskrit Studies at Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, Cambodia. JNU professor, Dr. Gulshan Sachdeva currently holds the chair on contemporary India at the University of Leuven. As the emphasis of the new government has been on the spreading the ‘cultural nationalism’, Chandra has been engaging with the larger ‘nationalistic ecosystem’ to tap into ideas and talent.
After chairs, Indian Culture centres are being strengthened, Chandra adds: “We want to have more 10 to 15 days long short terms courses based on the demand in those countries. These could be on cultural aspects of Indian dance, music, Bollywood and knowledge system.”
Talking about the June 21, Yoga Day, ICCR chief says plans have been drawn up and these will be shown to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his inputs for the day.