Indian foreign policy is not known for thinking out of the box. But in an increasingly changing world, New Delhi is looking for new partners and it has got not one but five.
On Tuesday, India will take part in the first-ever India-Nordic countries summit.
This is the second time ever such a summit is taking place. The last time such a summit took place was during the tenure of US president Barack Obama. And India aims to get a lot from it.
Nordic countries have globally-recognised strengths in clean technologies, environmental solutions, port modernisation, food processing, health, agriculture infrastructure, skill development and innovation. These are focus areas of India’s development. India’s flagship programmes like Clean Ganga, Swachh Bharat, and Smart Cities could get boosts from them.
India’s trade with the Nordic countries totalled around US $5.3 billion in 2016-17. The cumulative Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from the Nordic countries to India stands at US $2.5 billion.
Part of the reason for the summit is India’s growing ties with Stockholm. This will be after three decades that an Indian PM is visiting the country. The last time an Indian PM visited Sweden was in 1988. High-level political engagements have only grown.
Sweden is a valued Indian partner in trade, technology and investment. Over 170 Swedish companies have invested US $1.4 billion in India since 2000. Some 70 Indian companies have invested in Sweden. The India-Sweden annual bilateral trade stands at around US $1.8 billion.
The Indian PM met Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in New York on September 25, 2015. During the course of 2017, the two spoke over the telephone 4 times.
When the Indian PM arrives in Stockhlm, the focus will be on sectors such as business, science and technology, energy and smart cities.
India-Sweden trade ties have been good and are gaining momentum. Over 170 Swedish companies are at present in India.
Sweden has things that world can learn for it.
It has a feminist foreign policy and feminism forms a major pillar of its foreign policy. It has come up with its own terminology: “hen” instead of hon (her) or han (he). Uppsala in Sweden got a female archbishop in 2014. It is also the world’s first cashless society.
Only one per cent of transaction are done in cash, all the others use digital modes of payments.
The Nordic countries have been an influential voice in the world and at the UN. The first and second secretary generals of the UN were from Nordic countries. The first was Norway's Trygve Lie and the second was Sweden's Dah Hammarskjold.
Nor can the security angle be ignored. The Pakistani diaspora has been an important factor in the Nordic countries. They form the third-largest immigrant group in Sweden and Denmark, a group that has been an influential factor in Nordic’s politics.. Norway has the largest diaspora of Pakistanis in Scandinavia.
But all in all, Modi's visit is about opening a new chapter in India-Nordic ties. A chapter that looks at engaging with the Nordic countries as a single entity instead of separate units. A pan-Nordic idea, a pan-Nordic engagement.