Exclusive Interview with ICCR Regional Director (Kolkata) Gautam De
| Didhiti Ghosh, Bureau Chief, IOP, Kolkata - 11 Sep 2019

ICCR on Yoga, India’s Bilateral Relations & Cultural Footprints

By Didhiti Ghosh, Bureau Chief (Kolkata), IOP

Kolkata, Sept 11, 2019: “Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had an uncanny ability to connect with people from all walks of life and with political parties of different ideological moorings. He virtually had no enemies and was rightly called as Ajatshatru”, recalled Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, the Chief Guest Invited at the unveiling ceremony of the former Indian Prime Minister’s portrait at the Rabindranath Tagore Centre, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (Kolkata) on 16th of August, 2019.

The country observed Vajpayee's first death anniversary on the same day. The event was also attended by the Director-General of ICCR Akhilesh Mishra, President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankar and other dignitaries.

The portrait, a 7 ft. by 11 ft. oil-on-canvas has been painted by Shri Pranam Singh, an artist from Manipur. It is the first such portrait of Vajpayee to be unveiled in the country on the backdrop of India’s 73rd Independence Day, celebrated the day before.

Speaking on the occasion, Regional Director of ICCR (Kolkata) Gautam De took a note to the Council’s booming activities with a focus on harmonizing cultural trends within India and abroad. The Council plays a crucial role in bridging soft power in addition to advancing educational opportunities for all, the latter in line with stalwart promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Indian Observer Post’s Bureau Chief (Kolkata) Didhiti Ghosh knocked the aforementioned points and more in a freewheeling conversation with Director Gautam De. Excerpts –

How does India’s former Prime Minister (Vajpayee) account to the Council’s activities today, that he had already served tenure as the latter’s past President?

Much is accountable, if not more. A man of many parts, Vajpayee was a poet, philosopher and thinker of whom India is proud to the maxim. As former President of the ICCR between the years 1977 & 1979, he brought about novel policies to help spread the Council’s wings beyond its then-defined limits.

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Furthermore, Vajpayee functioned as the Private Secretary to Dr Syama Prasad Mookherjee, who was the founder of Jana Sangh, the organization of which the present Bharatiya Janata Party was born as a direct successor in 1980.

On a different note, how, ever since its foundation in 1950 has the Council spread its wings across India, starting from mere scratch?

Founded by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first Education Minister of India, ICCR has 19 Regional Offices in India. The Council’s relations with the State Governments and Union Territories provide a fillip to carry out international cultural exchanges in collaboration with them.

The 19 Regional Centres are included in the territories of Kolkata, Mumbai, Jaipur, Varanasi, Chennai, Bangalore, Goa and Jammu, to mention few.

Mentioning cultural delegations, what role does the Council play in spreading India’s heritage the world over?

ICCR empanels talented artists from various fields of performing arts who are sent overseas to showcase India’s rich cultural heritage all the world over. At present, the number of empanelled artists amounts to 4000.

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The Council sponsors about 120 performing arts groups under its Outgoing Cultural Delegations programme per year. This apart, ICCR collaborates with the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and organizes large scale exhibitions overseas.

Tell us more about the Forum for India-pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) delegation, under the Council’s Distinguished Visitors Programme.

This and the Academic Visitors Program of the ICCR receive eminent personalities, noted academicians & scholars as guests who introduce India’s rich cultural heritage to the world. The FIPIC delegation of 2016 was a noteworthy event under this scheme.

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Further, in the same year a group of Indologists from all over the world visited India, and in 2019 delegates from 184 countries visited the Kumbh Mela.

We have heard to the Namaste Festivals, which are ICCR’s brand events...

Yes, you are right – ICCR organizes Cultural Festivals either stand-alone or in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Govt of India. The Namaste is the Council’s brand festivals.

In addition, ICCR has institutionalized festivals like the International Jazz, International Folk Dance & Music Festival and the International Ramayana Festival, organized every year.

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Any particular steps are taken to inculcate the power of Yoga & Ayurveda via culture bridging?

At the unveiling ceremony of the former Indian Prime Minister’s portrait at ICCR Kolkata’s Rabindranath Tagore Centre on the 16th of August, the Hon’ble Vice President of India Shri Venkaiah Naidu highlighted the points in question.

Mentionable is the fact that ICCR has been facilitating mega-scale celebrations of the International Day of Yoga since its foundation celebration on June 2015. The Council proudly deploys teachers from India for Yoga learning sessions in Indian Cultural Centres, Missions & Posts within India and abroad.

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Does the Indian Council for Cultural Relations also provide scholarships for culture enthusiasts?

One of the oldest programmes of the ICCR in regards to the aforementioned point started with the General Scholarship Scheme. Presently, more than 7000 students have been benefitted from the programme, and orientation events for the newly admitted foreign students, winter & summer camps are organized annually for foreigners coming to India.

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These inclusive, ICCR establishes Chairs of Indian Studies in Foreign Universities, under the auspices of which 70 chairs have been established for teaching Indian languages like Hindi & Sanskrit in universities abroad till date. The Hindi bimonthly journal “Gagananchal” is a flagship publication distributed overseas.

Any comments on the Council’s collaborations in abroad and in India, and towards helping generate soft power?

The Deen Dayal Upadhyay commemoration lecture series on India’s Soft Power was launched on 21st May 2018, now organized annually to celebrate the occasion of World Culture Day.  As a token of goodwill, ICCR presents busts, monuments, and statues to foreign countries, noteworthy works being the Indian arrival monument to Guyana (2016), the Konark wheel presented to Cyprus the same year and more recently, the Buddha statue to Mongolia in 2019.

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Furthermore, several cultural branches of the Council find presence in Latin American regions like Mexico, Suriname, Argentina, and Brazil. ICCR’s footprints are also present in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Australia, and Thailand, to mention few.

Photo Courtesy: Soumen Chakraborty 

[DIDHITI GHOSH is an India Columnist at La Agencia Mundial de Prensa, USA, Bureau Chief of Indian Observer Post based in Kolkata & Conference Interpreter (Spanish-English-Bengali). E-mail: didhiti.24@gmail.com | LinkedIn: https://bit.ly/2H6gNAv].

 

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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANIhttp://bit.ly/2mh7hih).

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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANI. http://bit.ly/2mh7hih Email - SMS- 9910150119)


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