Established in 2006, the Public Diplomacy Division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs strives to foster a greater understanding of India and its foreign policy concerns. Its mandate enables it to organise and support a broad range of outreach activities, both in India and overseas.
Public diplomacy, a relatively new and rapidly evolving discipline, is regarded as the framework of activities by which a government seeks to influence public attitudes in a manner that they become supportive of its foreign policy and national interests. It differs from traditional diplomacy in that public diplomacy goes beyond governments and interfaces primarily with non-governmental individuals and organizations.
Successful public diplomacy involves an active engagement with the public in a manner that builds, over a period of time, a relationship of trust and credibility. Recently, the Public Diplomacy Division has made development of Web strategies to engage with diverse communities in India and overseas a key focus and is utilizing a broad range of social media platforms and services enabling the government to listen’ and understand the pulse of the nation.
The digital diplomacy was started on Twitter, and was soon followed by a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. While Twitter and Facebook are used to disseminate foreign policy news and engage with the overseas communities, the YouTube channel showcases documentaries and features on India’s ethos and culture. These initiatives have also served as a catalyst for many Indian missions and embassies to indulge in social media and form local communities. India Perspectives is the flagship publication of the Ministry of External Affairs and is printed in 17 languages in over 150 countries. The magazine, and other newsletters, are now made available online via Scribd and Issuu.
The digital diplomacy has been done under the aegis of Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary & Head of the Public Diplomacy Division. An Indian Foreign Service officer since 1983, Navdeep Suri has served in a host of different capacities in India’s diplomatic missions in Egypt, Syria, US, Tanzania, UK, and South Africa. The strategy and execution of social initiatives is taken care by Abhay Kumar, Under Secretary and a young Indian Foreign Service Officer. He has in the past served at the Embassy of India, Moscow and at the Consulate General of India in St. Petersburg.
I met the two at a SMC Delhi meetup hosted by NASSCOM last week, where they discussed their vision and challenges with the panel that included me. The panel presented them suggestions about further engagement strategy. They’ve had a good start with over 10,000 likes on Facebook and over 14,500 followers on Twitter already. Mr. Suri also shared some huge wins that were enabled by the social media engagement during the Libyan crisis as they worked to evacuate Indian nationals in that country. While most people, including me, do not associate the Government of India with technology adoption or initiatives in this space, the Public Diplomacy Division had me pleasantly surprised.