By Ashish, Faculty of Law, The ICFAI University.
Earliest contact between India and Sweden dates back to medieval times. The Swedish East India Company formed in 1731, was dubbed to be one of the most successful business entities of those days until its existence. Modern day bilateral relations were initiated with the 1957 visit of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Sweden. Since then, Sweden and India have developed similar views on democracy, social and economic development, and disarmament among others. India’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts of the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjoeld in Africa further strengthened the relationship. Gunnar Jarring as the Swedish Ambassador to India in the early 1950s played an active role in promoting trade and shipping between the two countries.
Sweden’s peace efforts in the Middle East was also appreciated and actively supported by India. Both the countries have a history of maintaining neutrality with regard to the world affairs and have showed great fortitude in resisting pressure from power blocs especially during the cold war era. Jawaharlal Nehru policy of non-alignment was in agreement with Olof Palme’s unequivocal opposition to the aggressive posture acquired by the superpowers in those times. India and Sweden played a proactive role in maintaining world peace and condemning the policy of apartheid in South Africa.
After the end of Cold war, both countries have been forced to revise their strategies according to the changing times. Sweden has not joined NATO but sent a contingent for peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. India too, is actively involved in providing economic and other assistance to the Wartorn nation. Both countries continue to play an active part in regional associations, Sweden being an active member of Council of Baltic States, the OECD and the EU while India being the largest and the most dynamic member of the SAARC.
Diplomatic Exchanges and Bilateral Visits:
To keep the friendship ties strong and steady, there have been frequent bilateral ministerial visits with the aim to enhance cooperation between the two sides. There has been continual sharing of ideas and along with an amicable relationship throughout which has helped in shaping a common perspective on vast number of issues. Prime Minister Olof Palme`s first visit to India in 1985, Indo-Swedish relations were almost at their peak owing to the charismatic persona of the Swedish leader and shared perceptions on world affairs which envisioned strict neutrality and nonalignment. He visited India the second time shortly afterwards in 1986. King Carl Gustav XVI and the Queen Silvia visited India twice in 1993 and 2005 which went a long way in restoring normalcy between the two nations. Between these monarchial visits, Prime Minister Goeran Persson visited India in January 2004. Recently Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt visited India in November, 2009 for India EU Summit and bilateral talks. Carl Bildt, Swedish Foreign Minister visited India in October 2011 for Nobel Week celebrations. From the Indian side, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Sweden in 1972 followed by Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to the nation in March 1986.More recently, Meira Kumar, Speaker, Lok Sabha visited Sweden on June 13-16, 2011. Sushilkumar Shinde, Minister of Power visited Sweden on June 19-23, 2011. Kapil Sibal, Minister for Communications & Information Technology and HRD visited Sweden on September 21-24, 2011. These high level diplomatic exchanges have gone a long way in enhancing mutual trust and shaping common viewpoint on the prevailing issues, understanding the global problems and their intricacies, and the resolution of the most pressing problems in a coordinated manner.
Future Possibilities and Prospects
Both India and Sweden have seen tremendous growth economically and their progress as a welfare state committed to the well being of their respective populace. Sweden offers a great model to be replicated in terms of providing efficient and universal healthcare to its citizens. It is also a world leader in developing clean energy and waste disposal. Its systematic approach towards environmental awareness and resolution of the most pressing environmental problems is a lesson for India in public planning and sustainable development. Bio-energy generation, bio fuel development and green buildings along with efficient urban planning are amongst the areas in which further development can be expected. Sweden is amongst the leading countries which focus on innovation in technology. The ability to work across multidisciplinary areas and derive fruitful results from the same along with bridging corporate and academic research environments makes Sweden a country an interesting country to work with. India being a large market, offers great prospects to the Swedish firms which are desirous to expand their operations in India. Being the industrially most advanced country of Northern Europe, Sweden has every reason to strengthen its relations with India, a fast growing economy and a capable partner commanding a strong geo-strategic and maritime position.
The excellent relations between the two Governments have been strengthened by parliamentary exchanges. Several important Parliamentary delegations from Sweden have visited India including one led by the speaker Per Westerberg in February 2008 to see at first hand the working of Indian democracy. The impressively long list of Swedish Parliamentary Committees which have visited India in recent includes the Defence Committee, the Constitutional Committee, the Cultural Committee, an All-Party Group to study the effects of Globalization, Committee on Industry and Trade, Committee on Finance, Committee on Labour and Committee on Foreign Affairs and most recently on Environment and Agriculture (February 2012) and on Defence (September 2012). From the Indian side, Hon’ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Mrs. Meira Kumar led six-member multi-party Parliamentary Delegation to Sweden in June 2011. A, a group of 6 young MPs from different Indian political parties visited Sweden in June 2012 at the invitation of the Swedish Parliament.
The first-ever India Friendship Group was set up in Swedish Parliament in February 2006, with a membership of over 45 MP’s drawn from parties across the political spectrum. Mr. Ulf Holm, Second Deputy Speaker of the Swedish Parliament is the current Chair of the Group. A Friendship Group has also been established in the Indian Parliament in December 2011.
Regular meetings and dialogue are also held in other important areas such as Science & Technology, Environment, Defence etc under the umbrella of relevant Agreements/Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) including:
- Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, notified in December 1997;
- Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement (BIPA) signed in July 2000;
- Science & Technology Agreement signed in December 2005;
- Indo-Swedish Joint Commission for Economic, Industrial, Technical and Scientific Cooperation;
- MoU on Air Services Agreement between India and the Scandinavian countries i.e., Sweden, Denmark and Norway signed in November 2006;
- MoU for cooperation in the field of Healthcare and Public Health signed in February 2009;
- MoU on Defence cooperation signed in November, 2009;
- MoU on cooperation on Environment signed in November, 2009;
- MoU in the field of Renewable Energy signed in April, 2010;
- Memorandum of Intent between Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare signed in May 2011;
- Social Security Agreement signed in November 2012 and
- Amending Protocol to Bilateral Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement signed in February 2013.