Newspaper claims that Indian ambassador tried to pressurize it into removing portions of Mukherjee’s comment on Bofors scandal
GN Bureau | May 27, 2015
First it was unnecessary political comment made by a constitutional authority. Now, another gaffe has been committed by a serving diplomat.
Ahead of his visit to Sweden, president Pranab Mukherjee said the Bofors scandal was a media trial and it had not been proven to be a scandal in a court of law.
Mukherjee, who has been Congresss party leader before being elected as a president of the republic of India gave an interview to Swedish national daily 'Dagens Nyhetter', a tradition before a dignitary’s visit to any country. He was asked if he thought Bofors had been a media trial. He said, "I do not know. I'm not describing it, you're putting that word. Don't put that word. What I am saying is that in media it was publicised. But up to now, no Indian court has given any decisive verdict about the alleged scandal."
The Bofors scandal was a $285 million contract between the Indian government and Swedish arms company Bofors, signed for supply of 155mm howitzer field guns in 1986. Subsequently, Swedish Radio alleged that Bofors paid illegal commissions to top Indian politicians and key defence officials to seal the deal. 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.
Mukherjee is scheduled to start his visit to Sweden, the first by an Indian president, on Sunday.
The president had a choice but he answered the question put by the Swedish paper. Now the Indian government seems to have acted in haste and asked its ambassador for a kind of cover up that will surely boomerang.
The daily Dagens Nyheter has reported that it was warned by the Indian envoy that 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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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 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.
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