Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter has reported it was warned by the Indian envoy that President Pranab Mukherjee’s planned state visit to Sweden was “at risk of being cancelled” if it did not retract remarks he made about the Bofors scandal during an interview.
The daily refused to retract Mukherjee’s remarks on the Bofors scam and carried the interview in full. Dagens Nyheter’s editor-in-chief Peter Wolodarski, who conducted the interview in Delhi, described Indian ambassador Banashri Bose Harrison’s reaction as “regretful”.
Video and audio of the interview posted on the newspaper’s website featured Mukherjee as saying that the Bofors arms scandal of the 1980s was more of a “media trial” because none of the charges had been proved in any Indian court. His remarks were widely reported by the Indian media.
“In a telephone conversation with DN (Dagens Nyheter) prior to the publication of the article, the Ambassador made a direct request that DN was to retract sections of the interview mentioning Bofors. She also warned that the planned state visit was at risk of being cancelled,” said a report posted on the daily’s website.
Bofors arms scandal more of a 'media trial': Pranab Mukherjee
The report further said Mukherjee’s interview had “created a crisis”. On Tuesday, Dagens Nyheter received an official letter from the Indian envoy in which she expressed “disappointment” at the interview. She said the daily neglected to show the President the “courtesy and respect” he deserved as a head of state.
“I find the Ambassador’s reaction regretful. It is surprising that someone representing the world's largest democracies (sic) is trying to micromanage which questions we should ask a head of state, and which answers should be published,” said Wolodarski.
“I told the Ambassador that we couldn’t accept her demands. The president became engaged and was upset when Bofors was mentioned during a question regarding how we can avoid corruption today. Of course we had to tell our readers about his reaction,” he said.
“The reactions in Indian media show that his answers are of public interest, even more so in India than in Sweden.”
The Indian envoy said it was “unprofessional and unethical” that the newspaper light heartedly mentioned that Mukherjee mixed up Sweden and Switzerland several times during the interview. She also claimed that the daily misled the audience by shortening a video interview from six minutes to three.
“DN published four pages in our Sunday edition containing almost every answer from the Indian president. We have conducted the interview in the same manner as we do whenever we interview other heads of state and government,” the report said.
Relations between Sweden and India were seriously damaged when allegations surfaced that Swedish arms manufacturing company Bofors 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 is scheduled to start his visit to Sweden, the first by an Indian President, on Sunday.