NEW DELHI: Even as the Narendra Modi government talks big about projecting India’s soft power, India’s main instrument for cultural diplomacy continues to wallow in severe fund crunch, forcing it to now open new cultural centres abroad only in collaboration with private organisations.
After the first such PPP (private-public partnership) mode cultural centre was opened in Spain, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has drawn up the rules for opening more such centres. The next Indian cultural centre on the PPP model will be in Busan, South Korea.
This new path for ICCR is due to its financial dire straits, of which the parliamentary standing committee report on Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) tabled last week gives a stark picture. ICCR had sought Rs 250.48 crore for its activities in 2015-16, but the actual allocation was just Rs 192 crore. “ICCR would have no option but to scale down its activities accordingly,” the MEA said in a written reply to the parliamentary panel.
For the last four years, there has been a consistent cut in funds as part of the overall budget tightening by the finance ministry.
Last July, ICCR signed an agreement with Casa de la India in Spain to give 25 per cent of its budget—or 75,000 Euros, whichever is less—for its cultural centre in Spain. This was only the third Indian cultural centre in Europe after London and Paris. The director general of ICCR and Indian ambassador to Spain are on the board of trustees of the Casa de La India foundation. With ICCR’s general assembly, governing body and finance committee approving guidelines for PPP modes only in February, the Spain model will now be replicated in other parts of the globe. “Efforts are afoot to work out a PPP arrangement in Busan drawing from the experience of the model used in Spain,” foreign secretary S Jaishankar told the parliamentary committee.
He added that while proposals have been received for opening cultural centres in Hanoi, Sydney and Nairobi. But all of them are ‘contingent upon necessary approvals from MEA and Ministry of Finance for the creation of posts and provision of requisite financial support from MEA’.
In other words, no new fully-owned cultural centres are in the offing, till the financial crunch is resolved. And, if any new centres are opened, they will mostly likely be on PPP basis.
In fact, four cultural centres have already been closed down in Toronto, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and sub-centre in Fiji’s Lautoka. All of them were in cities with considerable population of Indian diaspora. Incidentally, Toronto was opened in 2011 as the only Indian cultural centre in North America.
Even in the 30-odd cultural centres still working, several cost-cutting measures have been taken. Instead of appointing separate directors, several centres have embassy officials taking on dual-responsibility.
The cultural centre at Sydney finally started to function for the last one month after MEA transferred to local posts to Consulate General of India in Sydney.
There has been deferment in recruiting teachers for Hindi, dance, music and yoga from India. “Also we are encouraging ICCs to recruit teachers locally wherever such talent is available,” informed the ministry in a written submission.
ICCR is going the public-private partnership way not just for new cultural centres, but also for setting up some India studies chairs, as well as in exchange of Indian and foreign troupes. When foreign troupes travel to Indian states, their hospitality and cost of performance is now borne by state governments.