Sweden turns to its royals and the sound of ABBA to get through to India's decision makers

subscriber | 19 October, 2008

NEW DELHI. USA, France – and Sweden – they all use whatever weapon they have at their disposal to try and gain the upper hand as India moves towards a decision to purchase 126 jet fighters within the next 12-18 months – at the best.

The US’s decision, by the Bush Administration supported by the Democrat dominated Congress, in September to agree to allow India out of its nuclear technology isolation and admit the country into the nuclear energy club ending decades of what Indian’s often call “nuclear apartheid”, should partially be seen in this light.

Even more so now, after the financial meltdown and the unforeseen havoc it will cause.

The initiative to invite India to the nuclear club, where an underlying motive by the Bush Administration is also to set up India as a counter-force to China, went largely unopposed both within the US and with in the Nuclear Contact Group.

Those who opposed internationally, as Norway and Austria, where the ones that had nothing to gain from doing nuclear- or arms deals with India.

Other countries, such as France, with nuclear technology – and interest in India’s jet fighter deal - quickly cashed in on the deal and announced a bilateral nuclear technology deal with the Indians.

France was first out of the block: Prime Minister Singh and President Sarkozy signed a deal before the ink at the US Congress had even dried.

Sweden, which largely has lost its position as an advanced nation in the field of nuclear technology for domestic political reasons, has little to offer India in the business of geopolitics and security alliances.

Sweden’s potential advantage lies in its insignificance as it can offer India is a way out of an obvious dilemma: by choosing a small, non-aligned country like Sweden India's sensitive rulers avoid taking sides.

It's a compromise that also could work well regionally as well as domestically where modernists and traditionalists, both politically and traditionally, could otherwise clash.

Last Weeks Nobel Memorial Week in India organised by the Swedish Government for the Second year running, and sponsored by large Swedish companies with an interest in India, should be seen in that light.

If size matters it was a clear success, twice as large and very well attended, compared with the year before.

The Swedes mobilised all that is perceived as good about the country, as it through the centenary of the Nobel Prize, the country’s royalty, represented by HRH Victoria, and the music by pop-icon’s ABBA all in one bowl.

The lavish party for close to 2000 invitees at the Swedish Embassy elegant grounds in New Delhi served as the end of a week of ongoing festivities, royal dinners and networking activities.

Swedish Ambassador painstakingly made out that the Nobel Memorial Week was about Nobel, the Swedish explosives magnate turned philantropist.

There were no references to any deals. “This week is a tribute to Alfred Nobel, who stood for everything that was important to our country. He was an innovator, inventor and a businessman who brought his inventions to the real world; and put up a marketable base for his inventions as viable commercial products. He also set up 90 companies in 20 nations and laid the guidelines for the globalisation of the Swedish industry,” the ambassador told an Indian News agency.

Nevertheless last weeks Swedish party, with a sumptuous smorgasbord loaded with Swedish meatballs, Janson’s Temptation, crisp bread, herring and Absolut Vodka cocktails is likely to be followed by an array of counter-activities from other countries with jet fighter- and other aspirations in India.

That race is wide open and everybody knows it. It’s no way that price alone will pave the way for a deal with such strategic implications as India's acquisition of a new generation of jet fighters.

Taste buds and personal chemistry ares as important when deals are being done. The possibility of corruption is naturally there, with a swarm of middlemen happily playing the role of marriage councilors, themselves

The main disadvantage for the US and Russia, two leading contenders, is that India’s sensitive leaders would hate be seen to take sides for or against one super power or the other.

Exactly how the deal with pan out is therefore still very open. For the arms companies and their home countries time is of essence – with the financial crisis escalating and with it an urgent need to create jobs.

The Indian’ leaders may also soon find a reason to hurry up the deal, also for job creation reasons. But an election is also looming and if nothing has happened within the next 6-9 months the risk is evident that politics will come in the way for the arms deal.

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