Event ReportsPublished on May 21, 2013
ICCR Director General Dr Suresh Goel says cultural diplomacy creates an additional space which softens the sharp edges of foreign policy, which is interest driven, thus fostering a favourable public opinion impacting foreign policy.
Cultural diplomacy as an instrument of projecting India's foreign policy
Cultural diplomacy creates an additional space which softens the sharp edges of foreign policy, which is interest driven, thus fostering a favourable public opinion impacting foreign policy, according to Dr. Suresh Goel, Director General of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Initiating an interaction on ’Strategy of culture or culture of strategy’ at Observer Research Foundation on 21 May, 2013, Dr. Goel stressed the importance of cultural diplomacy as an instrument for projecting a state’s foreign policy. Foreign Policy is not just about state interests but creating a medium to understand the lower subterranean dialogue of civilizations, he said. And culture is one such key medium to dig into the shared history of civilizations. This projection of culture, Dr. Goel said, could go a long way in improving the relations among states, thus curtailing acrimony and nurturing mutual admiration and respect.

Dr. Goel said strategising has evolved almost naturally given the competition for resources ever since the beginning of mankind. However, as civilizations matured the nature has remained same whilst the format and intensity of competition changed. This he labelled the ’culture of strategy’.

’Strategy of culture’ on the other hand, he said, is the use of cultural approach to strategise competition. The rationalisation of our conduct using more innate instruments of cultural strategy rather than brutal force helps in better understanding and accommodating other people’s interests.

Dr. Goel juxtaposed both soft power and cultural diplomacy thereby comparing and contrasting them. The escalating tension captured by the rhetoric ’Clash of civilizations’, a term coined by Samuel Huntington, he believed, could be overcome by using socio-economic leverages which constitute the components of Joseph Nye’s now famous term soft power. But he pointed that sometimes soft power creates differences which could lead to an increase in conflict. He cited the example of aid diplomacy, which creates lobbies and pressure groups which further conflict.

On the other hand, cultural diplomacy uses culture to develop dialogue among civilization. Dialogue, and not power, he said, solves a conflict. He pointed to the strategy of culture employed by the Chola dynasty, given their extensive trade thanks to their enormous navy, influencing the cultures rather than overcoming them. Marriage, the concept of Duality, Vedanta, Advaita and so on, he observed, are ways of absorbing cultures.

Dr. Goel also spoke about the various instruments ICCR uses in achieving this aim of conducting successful cultural diplomacy. Providing scholarships, for instance, in Afghanistan and Africa, conducting conferences on civilizational and cultural subjects, supporting senior and junior fellowships to work on subjects connecting both countries, and establishing chairs at universities which function as the arts face of India abroad in collaboration with the host country were some of the instruments he mentioned. This, in fact, made the foreign policy more participative and democratic, he said.

Dr Goel said although ICCR did not believe in the ’universality of the Indian culture’, the nature of our Indian civilization encouraged to reach out culturally to the world. Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, Director, ORF, who moderated the interaction, spoke about the significance of social media in bridging the gap between the opinion makers and the policy/decision makers.

The Ambassador for Egypt, Mr. Khaled El Bakly, rather fittingly summed it up by saying the art of cultural diplomacy goes beyond politics.

(This report is prepared by Pavan Korada, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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