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Inaugural Address by Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri V. Muraleedharan at the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) Conference on Leveraging the Soft Power of India

October 16, 2021

Let me welcome you all to this important conference on the theme "Leveraging the Soft Power of India" with a focus on Indian artisans & handicraft, cuisine and creative industry, a joint initiative of the Overseas Indian Affairs Division of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), in partnership with the Diaspora Research and Resource Centre, Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad, New Delhi.

India is so rightly referred to as the melting pot of diverse philosophies, thoughts and ethos, creating a unique syncretic cultural mix. Having lived with a long history of acceptance, accommodation and assimilation of a truly pluralistic life, the Indian society has inculcated an extraordinary openness and affability, where nothing looks unfamiliar. This led to the well-known spirit of "उदारचरिताना तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम" which signifies "the broad minded sees the entire world as one family" and "सर्वधर्म समभाव" that means "all righteous thoughts can co-exist". These inclusive philosophies provide the Indian society with a capacity for a win-win global discourse, beyond the limits of the conventional zero-sum mind set.

The fundamentals of India's foreign policy also truly manifest these ideals, from "The Panchsheel"-the guiding beacon of peaceful coexistence to the SAGAR- a contemporary call for shared development and prosperity. Similar sentiments govern India's non-reciprocal and recipient driven development partnership programme. This fascinating civilizational journey loudly conveys that India will always be willing to share its progress and prosperity with others and means harm to none. As Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji says. "It is in India's culture to share its knowledge. India has never seen its knowledge as mere means to earn economic gains; be it our mathematics, textile or Ayurveda, we have always used our knowledge for betterment of humankind. India has always used its knowledge for betterment of the human race."

The Indian message of universal fraternity has been carried world over by Indian diaspora over centuries. The members of diaspora possess a unique virtue of narrating the Indian story to the foreigners in their own language whereas bring their stories back to India in the language which the Indians understand. We could hardly aspire for a more efficient and sustainable two way bridge of goodwill and understanding between India and its partners world over.

We value the importance of diaspora in soft power projection and has introduced a variety of initiatives and measures to strengthen and support their connect with Indian roots and heritage. Some of the important diaspora outreach initiatives include- Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Know India Programmes, exchange programmes, scholarships for diaspora children, Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme (ITEC), cultural festivals, Indian cultural centres abroad and many more.

Friends,

Today, the Indian cultural presence abroad is wide, varied and deep, be it the popularity of Indian festivals, Bollywood, performing arts, cuisines, or the scholarly appreciation of philosophy, yoga, traditional medicines or languages. Government programmes have played an important role, but much of the credit for on the ground promotion and propagation of Indian culture abroad rightly goes to the efforts of Indian diaspora.

The Government-diaspora partnership for cultural preservation and promotion has worked very well. However, a significant share of cultural penetration abroad can be and has been carried out essentially by the diaspora. Building on this strength, a time seems to have come to explore the new ways of further enhancing the diaspora's role in preservation and promotion of culture abroad. Keeping this in view, on 9 December 2020, Ministry of External Affairs, ICCR and Diaspora Research and Resource Centre (Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad) had jointly organised a very successful overarching conference on "Role of Diaspora in Promotion of Indian Culture Abroad" in the run up to the 16 PBD. The participants found this exercise extremely rewarding and desired this practice of direct consultations to be more regular.

We are glad to organise the next phase of this interaction by plunging to the sub thematic levels so that the various aspects of cultural engagement could be addressed with a greater focus and specialisation. This conference would accordingly deliberate on craft, cuisine and creativity.

With the passage of time, Indian cuisine has emerged amongst the most popular globally. Today wherever you travel in the world, from Tokyo to Toronto, from London to Lagos from Fiji to Finland, you find quality and well attended Indian restaurants. Many Indian Chefs stand tall amongst the global celebrity club. Popularity of Indian cuisine abroad can be judged by the fact that even the English have started calling 'CTM'-Chicken Tikka Masala as their national dish.

Indian Craft is also evolving as a growing new sector especially in fashion design, ethnic craft and painting, also resulting in the emergence of some reputed Indian craft centres in several diaspora countries. Several Indian designers are counted among the global best.

Cuisine, craft and creativity are not only cultural success stories but also mean good business. Ironically, these segments have suffered serious Covid-19 disruptions because of prolonged, repeated and widespread lockdowns and other restrictions. Objective of this conference would also be to understand the magnitude and depth of these setbacks and jointly explore the mitigating measures, including appropriate policy adaptations by the government and other stakeholders. In the session, we will look forward to listening to your frank ideas and assessment for further refining the relevant policy tools for continued collaboration. It is also important to deliberate upon why Indian Cuisine, handicrafts and creativity are different from other countries, what makes these peculiar and prominent?

Friends,

Finally, I wish to profoundly thank the partner organizations for their support and all of you for your valuable time.

Thank you

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