news Monday, May 25, 2015 - 05:30
    Bo G Andersson is one of Sweden’s most respected investigative journalists. He was lead reporter for the influential Swedish daily Dagens Nyhetter (DN) and contributed significantly to the Bofors-India Howitzer scandal which rocked the government of Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s, eventually leading to its downfall in 1989. Andersson is no longer a journalist, but DN invited him to comment on Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s statement that the Bofors case was not a scandal but a media trial. “This is an attempt to rewrite history…it will certainly not build confidence among the Swedes and strengthen trust,” Andersson told TNM in an exclusive interview. Excerpts.  1. What do you make of President Pranab Mukherjee’s comment?A: His comment is an obvious attempt to play down and rewrite historical facts. I believe it is a bad mistake. Mr Mukherjee has belonged to many governments led by the Congress Party, and has been close to the Gandhi family for decades. Therefore it is not far-fetched to look upon his comment as a way to re-establish the reputation of the party and maybe also of Rajiv Gandhi in this context.  2. How will this play out during his visit to Sweden at the end of this month?A: Most Swedes, old enough to remember the scandal, don´t look upon the bribe accusations as a “media trial”. They remember the facts, for example the thousands of documents released from Swiss banks as a result of requests from India. So, if his mission with the official visit to Stockholm is to “strengthen the trust” between the countries this is a shaky start.  3. You said this is an attempt to rewrite historical facts. Can you explain? A: It is correct that the Bofors scandal never led to sentences in the Indian courts. But that was not due to lack of evidence, which the Indian president implicitly says in the interview. The real reason was that several of the main suspects in the bribe case managed to avoid justice. Bofors CEO Martin Ardbo refused to go to India, despite many requests from the court, and the India-based Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochi ran away to Malaysia where he lived for many years. 4. What effect will this have from a media perspective for the Indian president during his visit – will the Swedish media pick this up? A. They already have. I was interviewed yesterday in Dagens Nyheter, where I worked earlier. How the media on a whole will react is hard to say. Though, I believe there is a risk that some focus during the visit unintentionally will fall on the bribe scandal as a result of this. The affair is not at all “dead” in Sweden. It is still something that people refer to. I participated a few weeks ago in a well known Swedish radio show, for young listeners. The journalists that led the programme wanted to know every detail of this big scandal. It has become modern history, and what really happened with the bribe money still attracts attention.  5. Corruption was at the center of the Bofors deal. Are the Swedes still worried that corrupt practices of this nature continue in India? A: Unfortunately, I believe that is true to a certain extent. And for this reason the comment of Mr Mukherjee was the worst thing that could have happened from an communication point of view. It now looks like India is not taking bribes seriously. What about Mr Mukherjee´s advisors? I doubt that this is something that was planned with them. If so, it is even worse in that case, as the comment then reflects Mr Mukherjee´s own and genuine views on this matter. The president should – and could - have said something like this: “What happened during the 80s in the howitzer deal was really a serious matter and it did a great deal of harm on the relations between the countries. I do hope that it never will happen again. Fighting corruption is a top priority and an important concern for any indian government. This said, I hope that the time now have come when Sweden and Indian can put the scandal behind and focus on trade and other issues. It is important to remember that our relations go all the way back to the birth of India as an independent nation”. Andersson is now a consultant and media advisor at the Swedish public relations agency Westander. Also Read: Bofors was not a scandal, but a media trial, says President Pranab Mukherjee
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