Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Public Diplomacy Office in MEA

South Block has finally realised that diplomacy in the information age requires dynamism & fresh ideas. The Ministry of External Affairs launched a public diplomacy office in 2006 to build "Brand India" abroad. Unlike the "Incredible India" campaigns or the track II diplomatic initiatives of the past that focused on cultural understanding and people to people contacts, the public diplomacy division will strive to:

1. Project power in it's sphere of influence & across the world with the immediate aim to secure a permanent seat in UN security council
2. Build a more "nuanced understanding of the government's stance on tricky issues"
3. Maintain the current "perception momentum" of a rising power
4. Build a favorable opinion of India as a "rising power"

It will be really interesting to see how the office strives to achieve this. Recently, no visibile efforts were made in instances where the IPL venue had to be shifted to South Africa owing to the country's perception as an unsafe destination, when the Australian Davis Cup team refused to visit India etc. Also, if one looks at South Asia alone, India's image is really tattered in the eyes of its neighbors. A good idea maybe is to focus on the neighborhood first!

Launching of the office is however a timely step, especially with the media and information revolution in the 21st century. Communications will play a bigger role in international relations in times to come and the battle for "mindshare" will decide many international issues. It will also give some structure and direction to the government in carrying out planned campaigns integrating all the elements of promotion, perception, projection and building influence - be it tourism promotion, cultural influence or power projection. Public Diplomacy communicates directly to the people unlike direct government to government negotiations and hence it's a powerful tool to mould foreign public opinion in one's favour. While the results can be rewarding implementing a successful public diplomacy campaign is really challenging and is a continuous never ending process. It will require dedicated resources, specialised personnel and clear policy. Let's wait and watch how the MEA goes about doing its job.

The Public Diplomacy office will also complement the recent power projection efforts of the Indian establishment. This is most interesting. Indian foreign policy, mostly guided by the Nehruvian vision in the post independence period never adopted power projection as a core policy. The Public Diplomacy office is also stated to be modeled on public diplomacy initiatives of the State Department of United States with the aim to build India's profile globally as a "serious power" with a clear interest in world affairs.

Undoubtedly it reflects fresh thinking and a holistic approach in conducting foreign policy by South Block mandarins and is indeed a welcome development. Only time will tell how much of this thinking will translate into serious and consistent communications campaigns.

See this link http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1517855.cms
-- Madhur