President Pranab Mukherjee has said the Bofors arms scandal of the 1980s was more of a “media trial” and none of the charges have been proved in any Indian court.
Mukherjee, a former defence minister, made the remarks in an interview with Dagens Nyheter newspaper ahead of an official visit to Sweden next week.
“The first point is no Indian court has given a verdict on it, and though the process of trial is going on…unless somebody, some authoritative institutions describe it as a scandal and punish it, how could you say that it is a scandal,” he said.
“You may have some doubt, you may have some suspicion, but that’s not the proof,” Mukherjee said in response to a question whether a scandal such as the Bofors affair could be avoided in future.
“The so-called scandal which you talk of, yes, in the media, it was there. There was a media trial. But I’m afraid, let us not be too much carried by publicity,” he said.
“But up to now, no Indian court has given any decisive verdict about the alleged scandal.”
Relations between Sweden and India were seriously damaged when allegations surfaced that Swedish arms manufacturing company Bofors had paid $640 million as kickbacks to secure a $1.3 billion contract to sell 410 howitzers to the Indian Army.
The scandal contributed to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s defeat in the 1989 parliamentary polls. Mukherjee, a senior leader of the Congress, was a close confidante of Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991.
Mukherjee asserted during the interview that it was “yet to be to be established that there was a scandal”. He further said that despite the scandal, the Bofors howitzers were prized by the army.
“I was the defence minister of the country long after Bofors, and all my generals certified that this is one of the best guns we are having. Till today, the Indian Army is using it,” he said.
The Bofors howitzers played a key role in the campaign to push back Pakistani troops who occupied strategic heights in the Kargil sector of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999.