President's Sweden visit delinked from Bofors row

President's Sweden visit delinked from Bofors row

President's Sweden visit delinked from Bofors row

Leaving behind the controversy triggered by his alleged comments on the Bofors deal, President Pranab Mukherjee is all set to undertake first Indian State visit to Sweden on May 31 for advancing bilateral relations with one of India's biggest foreign investors.

“We are keenly looking forward to the first-ever President of India visit to Sweden and Belarus. This subject (the interview and consequent political controversy) is not relevant to the visit of the President to Sweden and Belarus,” Navtej Sarna, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs said.

Sarna repeatedly shot down queries on whether the heat and dust generated over the interview would have any adverse consequence for Mukherjee's first trip to Sweden. The controversy was generated by a Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter  that published an interview of Mukherjee in which the President was quoted as saying Bofors was a media trial as no court had given any verdict. The interview triggered a fresh political row with Congress and BJP trading charges at each other.

Allegations of kickbacks in the procurement of 155 mm Bofors howitzer guns from Sweden overshadowed the Rajiv Gandhi government in the late 1980s, leading to his defeat in the 1989 election. At that time, Mukherjee was a senior member of Rajiv Gandhi cabinet. After the publication of the interview, Indian Ambassador to Sweden Banashri Bose Harrison lodged a protest with the newspaper's editor Peter Wolodarski, arguing it was unprofessional and unethical on the part of the newspaper to include "an off the record correction by the President after the interview had ended, about a slip of the tongue during the interview.”

The Ambassador not only conveyed New Delhi's disappointment at the manner in which Mukherjee's comment was included, but also claimed the Presidential visit to Stockholm was at risk of being cancelled. On Thursday, Sarna, however,  distanced himself from Harrison's comments.

Even though Sweden is the third biggest contributor of foreign direct investment in India, this is the first State visit by an Indian President to the Scandinavian nation. Mukherjee will be visiting a smart city in Sweden besides holding talks with his counterpart King Carl Gustaf XVI, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Liven and the Leader of Opposition Anna Kornberg Betray.

The President will be accompanied by Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers Hans Raj Ahir, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and BJP MP Ashwani Kumar, besides Vice Chancellors of seven universities.