India tells Swedish paper to retract President’s remarks on Bofors

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New Delhi: Swedish newspaper- Dagens Nyheter (DN) has reported that it was asked by the Indian envoy to retract sections of President Pranab Mukherjee’s interview to the paper, where he mentions the Bofors scam. 

DN’s editor-in-chief Peter Wolodarski, who conducted the interview in Delhi also said, that he was warned that the President’s planned state visit to Sweden was “at risk of being cancelled”. The daily however went ahead and published the report along with a six-minute video clip of the interview. Mr Wolodarski described Indian ambassador Banashri Bose Harrison’s reaction as “regretful”. Mukherjee is scheduled to start his visit to Sweden, the first by an Indian President, on Sunday, 31 May. 

In an interview given to the newspaper ahead of the President’s state visit to Sweden, Pranab Mukherjee had said that no Indian court had established the Bofors scam which had severely dented the image of former PM Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s. “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 (away) by publicity,” he was quoted as saying by the paper.

The daily refused to retract Mukherjee’s remarks on the Bofors scam and carried the interview in full. 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. 

A report posted on the daily’s website said, “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.”

The report further said Mukherjee’s interview had “created a crisis”. On Tuesday, 26 May, 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.

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