The external affairs ministry said on Thursday President Pranab Mukherjee’s reportedly controversial remarks on the Bofors issue to a Swedish daily have no bearing on his tour starting May 31, the first visit by an Indian president to Sweden.
Summoning his long-standing experience as a diplomat, Navtej Sarna, Secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry, deflected a volley of questions on Mukherjee’s reported remarks that Bofors was a “media trial” during a briefing on the president’s visit to Sweden and Belarus. “This subject (the interview) is not relevant to the visit of the President to Sweden and Belarus. So let us concentrate on what the visit is about,” Sarna said in response to a question on whether the president’s reported remarks to Swedish daily Dagens Nyhetter reflected the views of the Indian government.
In response to another question, he said “The status, I have just been, for the last 20 minutes, telling you. But I am happy to repeat it...We are keenly looking forward to the first-ever President of India visit to Sweden and Belarus.”
When asked if India’s ambassador to Sweden, Banashri Bose Harrison, had threatened the Swedish daily that if it published the off-the-record conversation, it may put to risk the President’s forthcoming visit, external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said, “No such threat has been made.”
Mukherjee’s remarks on the Bofors issue to the Swedish daily sparked off controversy and India protested to the newspaper for reporting a “slip of tongue” and off-the-record comments by the President. During the interview, ahead of his visit to Sweden next week, Mukherjee had said the Bofors wasn’t a scandal, but rather a media “trial”.
Allegations that kickbacks were paid in the procurement of 155mm howitzer field Bofors guns from Sweden plagued the Rajiv Gandhi government and played a major part in his 1989 election loss.