As the country becomes more and more connected to the modern world, the India International Centre needs to democratize. Illustration: Vector.
As the country becomes more and more connected to the modern world, the India International Centre needs to democratize. Illustration: Vector.

The prestigious India International Centre (IIC) in New Delhi, of which this writer is a proud member, is a center of cultural and intellectual excellence. Joseph Allen Stein’s architectural brilliance adds to its  dignity. However, the organization needs to modernize and become more democratic in its governing structure.

Since its inception in 1962, the IIC has aimed to build “understanding between peoples of nations”. The late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru said that the “world today is so constituted that there can be no escape from international cooperation”. He felt that the “IIC can help change the nature of the world”.

The IIC looks to make close contacts with leading academic and cultural institutions in India and abroad. It networks with diplomatic missions in New Delhi and attracts thinkers and professionals from around the world.

C D Deshmukh, the distinguished civil servant who founded the IIC, built it with the support of the then vice-president of India, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and prime minister Nehru. Some support came from the Rockefeller Foundation and more from several Indian universities. Deshmukh shunned business funding. Times have changed, though.

The IIC’s legal framework was based on the Societies Registration Act of 1861.

The IIC conducts talks and symposia on international and civic affairs; ethics and human rights; environment and ecology; wildlife; science and medicine; religion, philosophy, culture and literature.

It promotes understanding and amity among different world communities; it organizes and facilitates study courses, conferences, seminars, lectures and research projects; establishes and maintains libraries and information services; produces publications; cooperates with other institutions; and provides excellent residential accommodation.

The IIC is a place for statesmen, diplomats, policymakers, intellectuals, scientists, jurists and writers, all working in the spirit of international cooperation.

It conducts enormously attractive cultural events in classical and folk music, cinema, performing and visual arts.

Governance of the IIC is entrusted to a board of trustees consisting of five life trustees and two elected trustees (one “individual” and one “institutional”). Life trustees become president of the IIC for five years in turn in order of seniority. They draw no salary but have many perks.

The current president of the IIC is Narinder Nath Vohra, governor of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Recently, in a rare deviation from the organization’s traditions, a life trustee, after completing five years as president, tweaked the rules to get himself re-elected for a second consecutive five-year term. This came in for sharp criticism when the body held its annual meeting in March. The meeting was adjourned.

Just before the general body met again in June, the life trustee tendered his resignation as president, making way for the smooth succession of the next-in-line life trustee.

The system of life trustees, instituted in idealistic times, is  undemocratic in more realistic times. It must be replaced by a more democratic system. The election of the president too must be democratized because anomalies may be hiding in the shadows.

A sister organization of the IIC, the Council for Social Development (CSD), was set up by Dr Durgabai Deshmukh, the wife of IIC founder C D Deshmukh. A former diplomat has been president of the CSD for more than 20 years and has been given an additional five years by a governing body appointed by him. Institutional arrangements must be made to prevent anomalies or deviations in agencies such as the IIC and CSD.

Irregularities in the granting of coveted membership of the IIC as well as corruption have been reported. These need attention.

The IIC needs to change and democratize itself to keep in tune with changing times.

In an earlier version of this article, because of an editing error, the phrase “a life trustee, after completing five years as president, tweaked the rules …” mistakenly mentioned the name of a different life trustee than the one in question.

Kadayam Subramanian

Kadayam Subramanian is former director of the Research and Policy Division of the Indian Home Ministry and former director general of police in northeastern India. He is the author, among others, of Political Violence and the Police in India and State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India.

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