The diplomatic ties between India and Sweden can be dated back to 1949. However, recent times have seen accelerated growth in strategic ties between New Delhi and Stockholm. The foundational element of such cordiality is based on the shared values of democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights amongst others.
Prime Minister Modi’s landmark visit, a first of its kind after nearly three decades has given shape to this bilateral relationship like never before. At the virtual summit recently held in March 2021 collaborative efforts w.r.t defence, counterterrorism, peace and security, climate change, science and technology, startup innovation, medical innovation, and industry integration were discussed between PM Modi and his Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven. For years now, India has been home to a number of Swedish corporates. It is reported that there are over 200 Swedish companies in India employing over 2,00,000 workers directly and another 2,200,000 workers indirectly. Additionally, these companies report investments of $1.7 bn in the last five years with another $1 bn planned in the coming two years. On the other hand, about 75 Indian companies are fully active in Sweden, along with an Indian diaspora that accounts for nearly 10,000 people.
Covid-19 today is being termed as a humanitarian crisis. Our nation’s resilience is being tested to its limits. Support from the global community is pouring in. Team Sweden, along with all its stakeholders has joined forces to support India in its fight against the second wave of the pandemic. According to Ambassador of Sweden to India Klas Molin, “The second wave of Covid has hit hard and close to home, sparing no one. It is a humanitarian crisis and requires to be treated that way. We are working closely with partners in India to get an understanding of what is required on-ground. It is heartening to see so many stepping up to the challenge - from government and large companies to individuals, including the Indian diaspora community in Sweden. Each contributing to making a difference!”
As a testament to this strong partnership, Invest India has held Weekly Business Criticality Meetings with members of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in India to extend support in ensuring business continuity as well as other issues since March 2020, up until presently. The weekly meetings served as a platform for all stakeholders to gather and seek expedited resolution to matters at hand. The SCCI has stood strong in this partnership and has collaborated with Invest India to ensure that Swedish companies have smooth and hassle-free operations in the country, regardless of the situation.
The SCCI has launched an initiative under Kraftsamla (which in Swedish means to join forces), to coordinate all efforts being made locally that can broadly be classified as under-saving lives, livelihood, prevention and building for the future. Additionally, the chamber has been assisting migrant workers as well as women and children on issues such as mental health and trauma counselling. Such efforts also reflect that the consideration of Swedish companies towards India extends to beyond their business operations and towards the people.
“The second wave of Covid-19 in India has been highly virulent and fast-spreading, and this can truly overwhelm the best of administrations or healthcare systems anywhere. It is indeed gratifying to see the willingness and coordinated response of the Swedish companies in supporting lives and livelihoods with outreach to employees, families, and communities. The Swedish companies are engaged in creating Covid care centres, bringing Oxygen concentrators, vaccination campaigns and will continue to do more, together with the local administration,” said Kamal Bali, Managing Director of Volvo India, Chairperson of SCCI and Member and Partner of SIBC.
On the other hand, the Sweden-India Business Council (SIBC) in Stockholm, has been at the forefront of coordinating with the corporate community. According to Robin Sukhia, Secretary-General and President of SIBC, from Sweden, the industry will support medical supplies, distribution, medical care and support to urban and rural India. This is being done through established Indian established organisations such as Pratham, Indian Red Cross Society and Doctors Without Borders, among others, via their Swedish or international organisations. This far the total amount raised outside India is 45.5 MSEK or $5.5 mn.
“The rapid and substantial response from Swedish industry to the sad situation in India affecting our friends, families and colleagues was notable and encouraging. The companies and their head offices have mounted a great response to support the medical situation,” said Marcus Wallenberg, Chairman of SEB and Co-Chair India Sweden Business Leaders’ Roundtable (ISBLRT).
Lastly, the Swedish government has also donated 200 oxygen concentrators to India. The support has been channelized through the International Federation of Red Cross. Currently, the total financial contribution from Sweden stands at about approximately $85 mn. Sweden is also a direct contributor to COVAX; one of the three pillars of the Access to Covid-19 tools (ACT) accelerator by the World Health Organisation, the European Commission and France that aims at bringing together governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, private sector, civil society and philanthropy, with the aim of providing innovative and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. The COVAX pillar is focused on the latter.
The support extended during this time of crisis stands testament to the strong foundation of the bilateral relations between Sweden and India. It reinforces the idea that what we face today, is a challenge to humanity and not just a particular country. It also validates our belief that when disaster strikes, the global community has proved to be able to work together forgetting all boundaries and borders.
Finally, united in their efforts to support their fellow Indians, the Indian diaspora in Sweden is also working actively with the sourcing of oxygen concentrators and coordination of mobile hospital units.
Sweden stands with India!