Perspectives from ISB

In partnership with the British Deputy High Commission Chandigarh, we organised the Young Thinkers’ Conference 2019 (YTC2019) on October 17, 2019, at our Mohali campus.

With 10 panellists and about 100 participants, this half-day conference posed two-panel discussions, each covering a thematic topic: Strengthening Multiculturalism Through Soft Power Diplomacy and Para Diplomacy – Decentralised Dimension to Foreign Policy.


Professor Nandu Nandkishore, Professor of Practice, ISB, moderated the first-panel discussion with Apurv Mishra, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation; Smita Sharma, Journalist; Tom Birtwistle, Director, North India British Council; and Tanya Spisbah, Director, Australia – India Institute, New Delhi as panellists. 

The panel discussed how the country which tells better stories to the world is considered to have a greater degree of soft power, and in this context, India is a country that has innumerable stories to tell the world. India’s ability to obtain preferred outcomes through its historical, cultural and sociological artefacts is considered to be an essential aspect of its soft power. Adding to it, India’s vast and scattered diaspora helps in carrying forward these soft power tools, which helps in strengthening India’s economic diplomacy. “Ultimately, soft power is about have a common cultural story that attracts people to affiliate with us – a strong culture and value system”, said Apurv Kumar Mishra.Despite all the elements, India does not feature in the top 30 list of countries with soft power. On the other hand, UK tops the portland list. What can India do differently to wield more soft power? “By practicing leadership in technology, pharma, yoga, unani, its democratic decisions – one of the first countries to offer votes to men and women, India is truly playing a leadership role in the democracy space”, said Tanya Spisbah talking about India’s strengths and potential in harnessing soft power. “Soft power can be made strong through investment in education and scholarships. Educational exchange is about turning people into good citizens”, added Tom Birtwistle.

Jyoti Kamal, Senior Editor, CNN News18, chaired the second-panel discussion on Para Diplomacy – Decentralised Dimension to Foreign Policy. Falguni Tewari, Political Analyst; Ambassador J S Mukul, IFS, Dean, Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India; Remya Lakshmanan, Assistant Vice President, Invest India; and Aashika Jain, IAS, ADC Mohali, Government of Punjab, were the panellists.

Panellists of the panel discussion on Para Diplomacy – Decentralised Dimension to Foreign Policy at Young Thinkers’ Conference 2019

In the current phase of globalisation, we are experiencing a phenomenon where people-to-people interactions at various levels are happening irrespective of nation-state borders, primarily due to the horizontal advancements in information and communication technology. People now have more reasons to travel, explore and engage at a global level. Such a scenario has helped the economies to snowball for the past two and a half decades, as the international connections increased substantially. In India’s context, Remya Lakshmanan says, “Investing in India can be overwhelming for Investors, so if the tedious process can be made easier, we will have more investments flowing inwards.”

The sub-national entities of the federal democracies also tend to enhance their international engagement giving rise to paradiplomacy, which deals with the foreign policy capacity of the subnational government. Paradiplomacy helps in deepening democracies, and there is immense scope for strengthening India-UK engagement through paradiplomacy. “India’s paradiplomacy model is sort after, internationally. To define our model, it is cooperative federalism. We have the states coordinating well among themselves and with the Centre. But, in the long run, it may not be the answer to all our concerns”, said JS Mukul talking about the balance of National interest with subnational priorities. To this, Falguni Tewari added, “the Centre acknowledging paradiplomacy doesn’t mean that the Centre is pushing things to the states, but it is about giving the states a significant voice in shaping foreign policy that benefits them.” Similarities among the cities could be identified and brought together for stronger economic engagement.

Kumara Guru, Director – External Relations at ISB, and Andrew Ayre, British Deputy High Commissioner in Chandigarh at Young Thinkers’ Conference 2019

YTC2019 concluded with a summary by Andrew Ayre, British Deputy High Commissioner in Chandigarh, and a vote of thanks by Kumara Guru, Director – External Relations at ISB.

This was the 4th consecutive year that ISB, in partnership with the British Deputy High Commission Chandigarh, hosted YTC. YTC is the British High Commission’s flagship foreign and security policy conference. This half-day conference brings the brightest of thinkers as well as experts to discuss a range of issues.