Swedish defence minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday said the Bofors controversy was a dead issue that needed to be left behind and the two countries should focus on building a robust defence relationship.
The statement comes weeks after President Pranab Mukherjee triggered a controversy with his comments that no scandal had been established in the acquisition of the Bofors guns in the late 1980s.
Hultqvist told HT, “From our side the Bofors chapter is closed. All Swedish defence firms are competing in India in a transparent way and following laid-down rules.”
In an interview to Swedish daily last month, Mukherjee said the so-called scandal was a media trial. The guns were used effectively against Pakistan during the 1999 Kargil conflict.
“We have to think about the present and the future and can’t keep living in the past. Bofors happened many years ago and we need to leave it behind,” said Hultqvist, who is on a three-day visit to India. There were allegations that Rs 64 crore was paid as commission to bag the Rs 1,500 crore Bofors deal.
He made a fresh pitch for supplying Gripen NG fighters to the Indian Air Force, saying it could be dovetailed with the NDA government’s Make in India plan.
Swedish firm Saab, which manufactures Gripen, competed for India’s $25 billion contract for buying 126 fighter jets but lost out in early stages.
New Delhi scrapped the tender in April more than three years after French firm Dassault, which manufactures the Rafale, was declared the lowest bidder, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi opting to buy 36 of these jets from France in a fly-away condition
Hultqvist said “We are open to discussions on a possible government-to-government deal and could link it up with the Make in India plan.” He said India could benefit from “high level of quality and acceptable level of costs” his country had to offer.