Carl Bildt is Sweden's outspoken Foreign Minister. He has been under some criticism at the Stockholm Internet Forum last month, for Snowden's revelations that the Swedish intelligence Agency FRA collaborated with the US NSA to cyber-spy on Russia. Sweden was also the first country to break the boycott on meeting Narendra Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister that had arisen after the 2002 riots. He spoke to The Hindu’s Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar in Stockholm about his expectations from the Modi government:
Edited text of the interview:
Suhasini Haidar: India has sworn in a new PM. What is your reaction to the victory of Mr. Modi?
Carl Bildt: It was a very impressive victory -- it had a magnitude that surprised everyone. Of course there was a groundswell for change in India, it would be very difficult to interpret the election in any other way. And now he has taken over, now everyone is expecting him to take policy steps. I think it was very important and positive step that Nawaz Sharif was invited and I understand he got a very good reception.
Q: At a time when the European Union had an unofficial ban on dealing with Mr Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister in light of the 2002 riots, Sweden actually took the lead to reverse that ban, sending your envoy to meet him. Tell me why Sweden took that decision?
A: That was a couple of years ago. Yes we did that, I do think dialogue is the way to move things forward with Mr. Modi, and there were the question marks, which are still there to some extent. But at the time Gujarat was an important part of India and we are keen to have relations with all parts of India. Gujarat is important economically, and of course he (Mr. Modi) turned out to be an important man for all of India.
Q: Was it a mistake for the EU to carry out such a ban on Mr. Modi?
A: I think it was natural after the events of 2002, for a while. But there are limits to how far you can go with that, and the Americans had something similiar...() Which they have now reversed. I think it was probably the right thing to do at the time, after the events. But then we were keen to establish a relationship with him and have a dialogue with him very early on.
Q: How will it go from here, will Sweden continue such a policy of concern on Human Rights issues? Was it correct, as many have asked for Sweden to have even had a boycott of an elected leader?
A: It wasn't a ban really, our Ambassadors in Delhi don't meet everyone. There were no meetings for a while, and then we thought it was important to have a meeting with the leader of an important part of India, irrespective of whether he would have this powerful position later. But then Human Rights issues are important everywhere, and sectarian issues have always been difficult in India. But it is important to be said, for all of the difficulties India has seen, the fact that India with its democracy has been able to handle the enormous diversity that India represents. It is a testimony to the strength of India
Q: Going forward, especially given Sweden's lead in reaching out to Mr. Modi, what are your expectations when it comes to the new government?
A: Primarily, it is that he has to meet the expectations of the people of India. I think those expectations are very much linked with economic development. There has been the perception that there has been a standstill in reforms, and things are not moving as fast as has been expected. We find that in the business community as well, that expectations are very much linked to economic reforms. () The retail sector has been a controversial issue. And while we respect the decisions taken by India (with regard to IKEA), I think India should look at the example of other countries that have opened up in that particular sector with extremely positive results. I remember with Turkey, there was a similiar discussion, but then it opened up. China is another good example. So there is no reason India cannot repeat the positive results seen in other countries.
Q: You have organised the Stockholm Internet Forum here this year- what are your hopes from India when it comes to internet freedoms?
A: There are no official delegations here. The SIF is an attempt to bring together independent activists,and journalists for a free exchange rather than with diplomats and officials. India is a particularly important country for the internet. I was impressed by the role of social media in the campaign- primarily on the BJPs side, but also other parties, it was really innovative. In that sense India is ahead of the world in terms of social media and election campaigns.
Q: Well when India looks to Sweden and to the West, it seems the countries that speak the most about internet freedoms are also accused of the greatest amount of surveillance...
A: We don't have any mass surveillance. You may have read about cooperation between the Swedish (FRA) and America (NSA) regarding developments in Russia. If those are correct, I don't think it should surprise anyone. We have no limitations on freedoms online. Except that we can take legal action against people for hate crimes or incitement. But we are one of the free-est societies in the world. We do have an intelligence agency for domestic security and to protect people from cybercrimes, but its all under the law.