Indian Public Diplomacy: A Strategic Future

Six months after the launch of the India: Inside Out project, the results are in. Indian Public Diplomacy: A Strategic Future is the report produced by our team. It assesses six core areas of Indian public diplomacy, and offers four strategic recommendations for the future.

On behalf of the India: Inside Out research team, I invite your comments, questions, and feedback.

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India: Inside Out — a case study in public diplomacy

By Maya Babla

In November 2010, President Obama said on his inaugural visit to New Delhi, “India is not simply emerging, it has emerged.” In many ways, of course, this is true. India endured the economic collapse with resiliency, hovering between seven and nine percent GDP growth in 2011; it is speculated that the country has a chance at permanent-member status on the United Nations Security Council; and with its young population, India is perfectly poised on a trajectory to world leadership. On the other hand, India still lags behind on several key human development indices, ranking 134 of 187 in the most recent UN report, a challenge compounded by rapid urbanization.

For all these reasons and complexities—and a few more—India makes for a fascinating case study in public diplomacy, and in December 2011, six of my colleagues and I journeyed to New Delhi, Vishakapatnam, and Mumbai with the goal of appraising India’s public diplomacy strategy. Over the course of two weeks, we met with Indian government and civil society leaders, explored the culture, and experienced the sights, sounds, and smells of two of India’s largest cities. And along the way, we shared our conversations with people from around the world through this website. Our key deliverable will be a report that summarized our findings in six key areas: government public diplomacy, development, urbanization, citizen diplomacy, media, and Indo-Arab relations. The report will be available on this site in the coming weeks.

In approaching this project, my core question was one that required reconciliation, rather than an answer. How can India boast such high levels of economic growth, yet sustain some of the worst rates of child malnutrition, poverty, and gender inequity in the developing world? It’s a question that media coverage of India is beginning to ask: reality”? ” href=”http://www.newstatesman.com/asia/2012/01/pilger-india-land-advertising”>is India’s rise as a “new world power” both true and a “false reality”? Development was a key research area for us, and yielded a clear finding: Indians are hands-on when it comes to addressing the development challenges the country faces. They are engaged and invested in their own development, and this message was palpable in our conversations with a host of NGOs, social justice activists, and graduate students. Yet these groups may not be representative of all Indians; one of our Indian interviewees proposed that Indians’ “cultural tolerance of inequality is tremendous.”

Thus, while we found that India has a robust civil society that in many ways is filling in the gaps that the government cannot due to a shortage of manpower, the Government of India could be doing much more to engage its own citizens in development, and for that matter, in public diplomacy.

By seeing a large population as an opportunity—a strength to be leveraged—India would achieve both its internal and external public diplomacy objectives. In our conversation with Anita Rajan, who is a part of the office that advises the Prime Minister on the National Council on Skill Development (NCSD), she described India as being “on the brink,” and ready to excel in the next decade, provided that India’s youth population is equipped with the right skills. NCSD uses a public-private partnership model to provide vocational training, with the goal of skilling 500 million people by 2022, and these partnerships, it became clear, are paramount in enabling large-scale change.

We found that many Indians unknowingly act as citizen diplomats; take, for example, the leadership team at Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP), an organization that trains women community leaders—from entrepreneurs to lawyers—in conflict transformation. They take on the challenging process of tough relationships like Kashmir and Pakistan: areas many people cast aside as too touchy. One aspect of their programs is facilitating dialogue between these women leaders, the military, and government bureaucrats. WISCOMP’s approach is another model that can be replicated, and the more these types of collaborations happen, the closer India comes to achieving its public diplomacy objectives.

One challenge the Government of India will face along the way is the diluted citizen trustin its activities. A recent Times of India poll found that weakness” href=”http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-01-25/india/30662530_1_biggest-threat-youth-power-cities”>60% of Indians feel that corruption is the country’s biggest weakness, up nearly 20% from a Hindu Times poll conducted in February 2011. This is a critical problem because if India is perceived as corrupt on international indices as well as amongst its own people, then her credibility is damaged, and her ability to conduct public diplomacy is diminished, if not demolished. The government gets this, as evidenced by the comprehensive e-governance plan produced under the leadership of Abhishek Singh in the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology. India’s e-governance initiatives are promising on two fronts: first, the plan is accelerating the rate at which rural India becomes Internet-connected, and further accelerates the debate India must now face over Internet freedom; second, India’s expertise in e-governance creates an opportunity to share its expertise with other countries facing similar issues.

India’s relationship with the Arab world was an interesting case study for understanding the country’s foreign relations, and where public diplomacy fits in—or doesn’t. On the surface, Indo-Arab relations can be characterized as a strong business partnership. Given the many cultural and religious ties and a large Indian diaspora community in many Gulf countries, not expanding on this is a missed opportunity. But what is more promising, and more quietly pursued, is India’s engagement with countries working to re-build their governments post-revolution; here, India can offer its expertise as the world’s largest democracy, which will perhaps be more warmly welcomed than the American variety.

It became clear to us that India has much to offer the world besides its economic prowess. Indians’ work towards solving their country’s challenges is promising; the next step for India is in leveraging both the work of government and Indian civil society to do international knowledge sharing and capacity building. In doing so, India will rightly find its role in world leadership.

This piece was originally published for the USC Center on Public Diplomacy’s December 2011/January 2012 issue of PDiN Monitor.


Citizens in Action

By Anna Dawson

As mentioned in the recent article by fellow India: Inside Out teammate Aparajitha V., one of the main problems with India’s government public diplomacy efforts is the lack of manpower. Citizen efforts can have the ability and potential to meet the government’s needs. One area in particular where citizen diplomacy can have a huge impact is in India-Pakistan relations.

While in India, our team had the opportunity to meet with many groups conducting citizen diplomacy to help improve India-Pakistan relations. These groups varied in their scope of approaches from being deeply involved in conflict transformation, to not directly taking a stance on the issue at all. The following are some of the organizations we met with and their efforts in citizen diplomacy:  Continue reading

Kicking Away the Ladder: Indian Civil Society in Action

By Hend Alhinnawi

MUMBAI – In a country that is home to 55 of the world’s billionaires, it is hard to imagine that India, like many other developing countries, faces great challenges when it comes to poverty, homelessness, and development-related issues. In a nation with an estimated population of 1.21 billion, how does one go about solving these problems? Many are tempted to point the finger at the government, and while they have a responsibility to provide basic necessities to their people, I am interested in the role of civil society in addressing development challenges.

As one official at the United States Embassy in Mumbai put it: “young Indians are acutely aware that India has become a world power, and they are also aware of its shortcomings.”

Previously, I had examined India through the United Nations lens, reading reports of UN data and looking at various UN-sponsored projects. However, through the India: Inside Out trip, I was able to see the impact ordinary people are making on international development issues in India. The government has caught on to this idea, too. Navdeep Suri, Head of the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs in India, expressed that: “one way of addressing India’s development is through creating smart partnerships between the government and civil society.”

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India and the Internet: An Ambiguous Relationship

By Jerry Edling

NEW DELHI – India is often celebrated as a contradiction in terms, so it may not be surprising to learn that even though the country has only about 10% Internet penetration, it is very actively moving into e-governance while at the same time struggling with the issues of Internet freedom that are confronting most democracies. Spearheading the effort to achieve a more transparent and digital mode of government is Abhishek Singh, the Director of E Governance at the Department of Information Technology in the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology for the Government of India, who met with the India: Inside Out team on December 13.The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is designed to expedite such tasks as applying for a passport, registering a business and processing land records. To quote the promotional brochure, “No queues. No multiple windows. No delays. The beginning of the NeGP marks the end of all that.” That’s quite a goal for a nation renowned for an often opaque and confusing bureaucracy. Continue reading

Commonalities and Complexities

“India is a complex nation.” These are words I heard many times throughout my short two-week span in India, and after much reflection, I believe I may have finally gained a speck of clarity about what this statement means, and why it became a recurring theme in conversations about where India is today and where its future lies. I set out to examine the state of India’s urban issues; to determine whether the strength of the nation is stemming from its megacities, urban populations and local innovations. What I found is that identifying India’s strengths and weaknesses is a complex task, and often, they are one and the same.

In New Delhi, our team met with Harsh Mander with the Center for Equity Studies (CES). CES conducts research and advocacy for social and economic justice, and under their umbrella, the Dil Se campaign was established to provide services to street children in Delhi. After visiting a school for boys that was established as part of the Dil Se campaign, and hearing about the vast needs of urban children in Delhi and throughout India, it was obvious that great efforts are being taken to correct a growing problem that has left many children without proper education, health, and other basic needs and opportunities.

Dil Se Classroom - Photo by Anna Dawson

Our conversation with Mr. Mander revealed several things: collaboration with government on urban social issues is a must; societies must reclaim responsibility for their citizens; and populations must understand the issues that are common to us all in order to find solutions to the problems that unite us. Continue reading

Glorious Delhi: A Melting Pot for Religious Diplomacy

NEW DELHI – Walking through the streets of New Delhi, it is hard to resist a city with such a unique combination of old charm and modern features. Whether you’re looking for cultural, social or religious diversity, you’re sure to find it in Delhi. On December 12, 2011, New Delhi celebrated 100 years as India’s “spanking new capital.” On that same day in 1931, King George V announced the shifting of the Capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi. So, what makes New Delhi so special? For one, there are many religions represented, including Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, the Baha’i faith and Christianity. In one day, our group visited Askhardham, Jama Masjid and the Lotus Temple– all sites with magnificent structural appeal and a good story to tell.

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