Member of the Upper House of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, Dr Karan Singh is presently the President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), a position he has held since the last nearly eight years. Since the present post is equivalent to the rank of a Cabinet minister, Singh, a senior member of the ruling Congress Party, is entitled to the ministerial level perks as well.
Known for his diplomatic skills, Singh was expected to move India’s cultural diplomacy from the periphery to the mainstream. But not all were impressed with the appointment. An analyst wrote: “Since the Darbar could not give him a seat in the Cabinet, it gave him toys to play with — seats on public institutions — to the detriment of the public interest.”
While on the one hand people were pessimistic with his ICCR appointment, it had the staffers on tenterhooks, as it meant that mandarins at the cultural body would have to be on their toes. Singh, after all, is a huge taskmaster.
His interests in cultural activities are well known and he has been acknowledged, both nationally and internationally, as a philosopher, orator, author and politician.
Criticism notwithstanding, Singh has forced countries across the world to see India with renewed interest and people are keen to know what makes India tick. He is also the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Cell of the Congress Party. And in this capacity, Singh is present whenever a visiting Head of Government calls upon Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Congress Party President, as also when she calls upon visiting Heads.
Known as a cultural stalwart, educationist and scholar, he has received several honorary degrees and awards. He served as Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, J&K University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was also chairman of the Indian Board of Wildlife and head of ‘Project Tiger’.
Singh was conferred upon with the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award, in 2005. A prolific writer, he has written numerous philosophical essays, travelogues and poems in English, besides books on political science and his autobiography.