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Swedish tie, sealed with a laugh
Indian link of top-job hopeful

Anna Kinberg who is married to David Batra, a person of Indian origin

Recently in Stockholm: As the Narendra Modi government attempts to remake foreign policy and revive ties whose potential has not been fully realised under UPA rule, Sweden’s relations with India may turn out to have shades of a stand-up comedy. Perhaps with an element of farce.

This is so because one of Sweden’s up and coming politicians who is already tiptoeing on the edges of prime ministerial office is married to a person of Indian origin who is also the country’s most popular stand-up comedian and a front-runner in television entertainment here.

Anna Kinberg’s marriage to David Batra has already unleashed in her a passionate interest in India and produced a book whose title is hard to translate: Indien fråstackare till stormakt (popularly translated as “India — From Wretch to Great Power”). But Anna and her husband both disapproved of the translation in separate conversations with this newspaper in Stockholm recently.

Shortly after the book’s publication, Anna was elected chairperson of the India Friendship Group in the Swedish parliament, a caucus that is stepping up its activities in anticipation of a major upswing in relations with New Delhi.

The book, which is the product of her voyages of discovery to India since she met David in 1998, predicts and partly traces India’s evolution from poverty to 21st century’s potential great power. Anna says a more appropriate translation would be “India — From Poverty to Great Power”.

In drawing rooms across this country, India has been the flavour in recent weeks. Nightly on prime time every Tuesday, TV-4, a popular television channel in Sweden, has been showing a 30-minute comedy serial shot mainly in Udaipur by David and his colleague at their Roa Produktion studios here, Johan Glans.

Its Swedish title, Jattebastisar, translates as “Best Friends” and features in a light vein travels by Batra as a fictional Swedish character with the name of Lennart and Glans as Peter. The serial, Batra’s first on India, had been in the making for a year and a half. He would like to do more serials out of India in future but has made no firm plans.

Meanwhile, his hobby, cooking, has resulted in another milestone that is generating big interest in India here in a critical but relatively unexplored sphere: Indian food.

David Batras inte så tråkiga indiska mat, a popular cookbook that Batra brought out recently, features Indian recipes that Swedes can make with ingredients available readily here in the absence of an array of south Asian grocery stores unlike England’s Southall or New York’s Jackson Heights.

The book’s title translates, in the author’s typically comic style, as “David Batra’s not-so-boring Indian food”.

Anna, who became parliamentary group leader of Sweden’s ruling Moderate Party in 2010, described the Swedes’ conventional view of India as the “3-Cs”. They stand for cows, caste and chaos.

She was speaking a few weeks ago at the inauguration of “India Unlimited”, a festival-style effort to showcase different and new aspects of India, especially its economy and culture.

The project is the brainchild of the Indian ambassador here, Banashri Bose Harrison, who countered Anna’s 3-Cs theory with her idea of 4-Cs — namely, cinema, cuisine, culture and crafts — in the India Unlimited programme.

Anna conceded that the image Swedes traditionally had of India in terms of 3-Cs was changing. Part of the reason for the change was that two out of every three foreign-born computer programmers in Sweden today are from India.

“There are more Indian students in Swedish universities now. They have overtaken the Chinese in numbers.”

The change is the product of four decades of effort.

Although trade with India increased threefold in recent years, “we need more open trade at a time when eight out of 10 Swedish companies are looking to export”.

The Brics countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are now on top of the Swedish market.

Within the ruling Centre-Right coalition, of which the Moderate Party is the bulwark, Anna ranks third after the Prime Minister and the party secretary. She is not a minister because in the Swedish system, anyone who joins the cabinet has to resign from the parliament.

But she is widely viewed across the country as a potential Prime Minister. “Political involvement,” Anna said, “I have had as long as I can remember, in various forms, in everything from student council in middle school to the mission I have today.”

She first entered the parliament in 2000 representing Stockholm University. Sweden faces a general election this September.

David Batra’s father, Satish Chandra, left Punjab at the age of 19 to study medicine in Canada. He went to Sweden for a year as a researcher and met his mother Marianne. They fell in love and married. David and Anna have given their only daughter an Indian name: Devi.

David’s entry into his current profession was by chance. He entered an amateur competition for stand-up comedians 20 years ago and came out first. He was then offered a slot to be a professional and never looked back.

Despite the rising popularity of the couple in their respective fields, David says they never appear together on any medium. He does not wade into politics and she does not dabble in his chosen field of entertainment. Obviously, a love for India is one thing they share and are unabashed about demonstrating and displaying.