New Delhi: When Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia come calling Sunday for a six-day state visit to India, the issue of Kashmir will loom large even as Stockholm looks to bolster trade and business ties with New Delhi.
Business between India and Sweden has been growing. But the visit of the Swedish king, who is the country’s ceremonial head, will help in bridging the “political gap” that still exists between both countries when it comes to some sticky issues like Kashmir, sources told ThePrint.
The visit comes at a time when India is still facing a lot of international questioning on the Modi government’s 5 August move to scrap Jammu & Kashmir’s special status under Article 370.
Apart from Germany and Finland, Sweden is another country of the European Union (EU) that has questioned the human rights situation in Jammu & Kashmir while seeking India’s roadmap for bringing normalcy there.
“We emphasise the importance of respect for human rights, that an escalation of the situation in Kashmir is avoided and that a long-term political solution to the situation must involve Kashmir’s inhabitants,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Riksdag or the Swedish parliament Wednesday. “Dialogue between India and Pakistan is crucial.”
Responding to a question in the country’s parliament about the situation in Kashmir, Linde said it was “worrying”. Sweden, she added, is “closely following the developments.”
“Sweden and the European Union (EU) have had direct contacts with both India and Pakistan on this issue. Together with the EU, Sweden is closely following the changes that have taken place in Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status and notes information that has emerged about how the development affects the situation for human rights,” added Linde, who will be part of the king and queen’s delegation on their India visit.
This is not the first time that Sweden has subtly criticised the Article 370 move.
On 21 August, Linde’s predecessor Margot Wallstrom expressed similar concerns.
During his visit, which ends 6 December, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf is expected to ask for a readout from India on what it is planning to do in Kashmir. This is his third visit to India, having earlier visited the country in 1993 and 2005.
‘The visit will bring India, Sweden closer politically’
While the India-Sweden equation has been mostly pivoted on business and investments, experts say there has been a political void between the two ever since the relationship went into a freeze after the Bofors scam broke out in the 1980s.
Swedish firms are a household name in India — from the clothing giant H&M to DIY furniture titan Ikea and the Bofors guns.
“Their Majesties King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia… are highly revered in Sweden, even though they are only ceremonial heads. Sweden believes in doing long-term business in India and not be fly-by-night operators,” said former Indian ambassador to Sweden Banashri Bose Harrison.
“But the political relationship between India and Sweden never really deepened. This is the time when both sides should grab the opportunity and open up a new chapter,” she added.
Harrison’s tenure as envoy coincided with then President Pranab Mukherjee’s June 2015 trip to Sweden, when he became the first Indian head of state to visit the country. The next year, Sweden Prime Minister Stefan Löfven came visiting. He was one of the few foreign leaders to participate in the Modi government’s flagship ‘Make in India’ programme.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Sweden to participate in the first-ever India-Nordic Summit. Modi was the first Indian PM to visit the country in 30 years, the previous trip being Rajiv Gandhi’s in 1988.
“The Swedes will surely look for a readout from the Indian government on the Kashmir situation but the focus of the visit is going to the business and trade,” said veteran diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar, who was India’s ambassador to Sweden from 2010-2012.
“The Swedish government is very serious about selling the Gripen fighters to India. The visit will give further impetus to political linkages between both the countries,” he added.