Public Diplomacy

Common ground

November 30, 2014

In his run up to the 2014 elections, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had on multiple occasions spoken about India’s Soft Power.

With the similarities in cultures between Latin American Region and India, this soft power idea needs a hard push. India needs to "act to harness the economic potential of the entire Latin American region”.

In fact the mash up of diplomacy and business with culture and poetry, has helped in creating strong ties between the peoples of the two region. The Latin American region has a substantial Indian population, who act as a strong bridge.

And then of course, like they say art and culture have no boundaries. If Octavio Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda are popular in India, Rabindranath Tagore, is a favourite with people in the region.

And why just literature. Sai Baba, ISKCON, yoga centres and tremendous love for Indian music and Indian dance are well known. In fact Latin Americans consider India a land of yoga, meditation, philosophy, wisdom, culture and spiritualism. Yoga schools can be found all over the region. Yoga and meditation are taught in some Latin American gaols to calm down the convicts. There are several thousand Latin American followers of Indian spiritual gurus and organisations such as Sai Baba, Hare Krishna and Art of Living. There are NGOs in São Paulo and Medellin which disseminate Gandhi’s message of non-violence in schools, prisons and even among the police. There are now 29 Sai centers in Mexico and over 250 centers in Latin America.

images/h1.jpg(PICTURE OF HASTINAPUR)​In Argentina, Hastinapur, the city of wisdom (ciudad de la sabiduria), is spread out on a total area of twelve acres. Its population consists of a dozen Indian gods and an equal number of Argentine human beings. Some of the Indian gods reside in authentic temples, while others stay outdoor enjoying the fragrance of the flowers from the garden. The gods who have their own temples include Ganesh, Krishna, Surya, Narayana and Siva. Since it is Hastinapur there is a temple for Pandavas too. Hastinapur is clearly a place fit for the gods ...who should be pleased with the cleanliness of the place, the serene surroundings and the green garden with Rosewood trees. The local people go there for wisdom.

However there is still a huge information gap. In Latin America there are many books in Spanish and Portuguese on Indian philosophy and spiritualism but very few on contemporary India written by Latin Americans. Similarly, there is a shortage of books on Latin America by Indian authors. There is a need for a more direct flow of news and an exchange of views between the Indian and Latin American media, think-tanks and universities.

Under an exchange program of the Ministry of External Affairs, recently there was a large number of journalists from the region visiting India and not only did they meet with the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, they got an opportunity to travel across the country and feel for themselves what India is all about.

Indian businesses have been exploring the Latin American markets very proactively but Latin Americans have not yet paid sufficient attention to the Indian markets.

images/g1.jpg(PICTURE OF RAUL WITH THE GROUP)Groups like NAMASTRADE (Namaste + Trade) was founded in November 2011 in Argentina, by a young Argentinian Raúl Pastorini, who was so fascinated by the then Indian ambassador to the country Rengaraj Vishwanathan's passion about Latin America, that Raul decided to he set up a group NAMASTRADE, which is not a business chamber,...but a group through which they promote all sorts of relations between India and Argentina. " At the beginning we were focused into Indian exports to Argentina - but due to some barriers imposed by our national government, we had to give a 180 degrees turn and start focusing in Argentine exports into India. At the recently concluded India-LAC conclave organised by the government, Namastrade was in charge of the biggest delegation. We brought 28 companies, and organized B2B meetings for all of them.”

images/gomiddle.jpg(Holi celebrations in Colombia)Excited by the success of the meetings that generated positive results, Raul who has been here several times before, says that, "It was the very first time some Argentine companies took a major step to visit India and that too as part of efforts to ensure that relations between the two sides grown both business wise and people to people contacts grow.”

According to Cristhian Salamanca heading the Friends of India Association, a Colombian by birth but in love with India, "The Friends of India Association (Amigos de India) aims to strengthen friendship and to promote the exchange of our countries through arts, culture, literature, science, academy, technology and subjects in general. It was launched for the public on 4th September 2009.”

During the past five years both India and Colombia besides the diplomatic efforts to improve relations, Salamanca has been organizing numerous academic and cultural programs in various universities of the country. The program is called "India Fascinante". The program includes conferences by specialist in various Indian subjects, including workshops about hindi calligraphy, gastronomy and cultural programs with music and dance. To name a few universities: Santo Tomás; Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano; EAFIT; Universidad Autonoma de Occidente; UNITEC and more.

Also, with support from the Indian embassy in Bogota, the association has carried out various projects and events, like Hindi Day; World Hindi Day; India Talks; Photography and essay competitions; promotion and organization of dance workshops; Indian cinema forums; hindi classes; and is planning to organise a Indian Film Festival in April 2015, which will be in the main cities of the country.

Kapil Gulati, the former director of Havells Sylvania in Costa Rica, to live his dream of getting India and Costa Rica closer. As one of the few Indians there, he has set up a group CRIA ( Costa Rica India Association).

"In absence of Indian Embassy, Indians living in Costa Rica had been feeling lack of a patriotic passion sharing platform for a while, till in 2010 CRIA (Costa Rica India Association) was formally formed by a small group of Indian professionals relocated to Costa Rica. Working in their professional field, they would put in own resources to conduct meetings, seminars and festivals and reach out to Costa Rican ministries, government bodies and Ticos (Costa Ricans are called Ticos). All Indians would join together to donate for organizing Indian national days and cultural celebrations,” he shares.

Supported by the Indian embassy responsible for the Costa Rica, CRIA is a formal group of professionals drawn from various fields, who are passionate about India and are working without any self interest, to promote the Indian culture in Costa Rica and facilitate the trade ties between the two countries. This group is also working as Indian Embassy’s eyes and ears in Costa Rica and updating them regularly on the developments related to trade promotion and political scenario.

How can Bollywood be left behind?

The region has exotic and attractive locations for film shootings and Indian filmmakers had explored it earlier also. Bollywood has considerable presence in Latin America, especially in Peru and Colombia.

'Dhoom II' was shot in Rio and a scene for 'Robot' was shot in Machu Pichu in which Rajnikanth danced with Aishwarya Rai. In August 2010, Priyanka Chopra was in Rio for shooting the show, 'Fear Factor'. Not only this, after Barbara Mori and Giselle Monteiro's popularity post "Kites" and "Love Aaj Kal" respectively, there are many youngsters from Latin America who are keen to try their luck in Bollywood. Perhaps few are aware that the popular TV Serial on Sony TV from the decade gone by – "Jassi jaisi koi nahi” was an import from Colombia – Yo soy Betty, la fea.

Technopark based animation major Toonz Animation India Pvt Ltd and Buenos Aires Illusion Studios collaborated to produce 3D cartoon film "Gaturro". Based on comic character created by the famous Argentine cartoonist Christian Dzwonik (Nik), the film was a hit in Argentina.

Director Pablo Cesar is working on a co-production "Thinking of Him", based on a romantic story of Tagore´s encounter with Victoria O´Campo in Buenos Aires.

From bindis to Ganesh idols, the Indian flavour is becoming popular among the locals, thanks to the Brazilian soap opera "Camino das Indias" that ran for eight months in 2009 on Brazilian Globo. Exports of Indian ethnic dress, decoration items and Ganesh idols have skyrocketed. The soap opera has been dubbed in Spanish and is being shown in the rest of Latin America."

Venezuela on its part looks to Bollywood for advice, as Venezuela’s Foreign Minister in a visit to New Delhi had said, "The goal is for Bollywood professionals to train the technicians, screenwriters and producers of the emerging Venezuelan film industry.”

(By Ms Huma Siddiqui is a Senior Correspondent for one of the leading financial dailies, The Financial Express in New Delhi. She specialises in coverage on Latin America & Strategic and Military Issues)


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