Mukherjee to visit Sweden, Belarus from May 31

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee will embark on a State visit to Sweden and Belarus starting May 31, with his reported remarks to a Swedish daily on the controversial Bofors issue having no bearing on the visit to the Scandinavian country.

Briefing reporters here on yesterday on the president’s visit, Navtej Sarna, secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry, sought to circumscribe questions related to Mukherjee’s reported remarks and if these had cast a shadow on the visit.

“We are keenly looking forward to the first-ever president of India visit to Sweden and Belarus,” Sarna said.

With reporters persisting with their queries concerning the interview to Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Sarna said it was not relevant to the visit.

“Let us concentrate on what the visit is about. We are happy to talk to you about the visit at any length that you like,” he said.

The president will be visiting Sweden on May 31-June 2 and Belarus on June 2-4. He will be accompanied by senior officials, directors of Indian universities and business leaders.

Asked about reports that India’s envoy to Sweden, Banashri Bose Harrison had warned Dagens Nyheter to edit references to the Bofors controversy or else the presidential visit was at risk of being cancelled, ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said “the ambassador made no such threat”.

The president’s press secretary Venu Rajamony, who was also at the briefing, said preparations were fully underway for the Mukherjee’s visit.

The Swedish daily had said the Indian envoy warned it to edit references to the Bofors controversy made by the president or the visit to Oslo was at risk of being cancelled. The daily refused to oblige and went ahead with publishing the interview.

The daily said Mukherjee had told Dagens Nyheter editor in chief Peter Wolodarski in the interview that the Bofors controversy wasn’t a scandal, but rather a “media trial”.

The Bofors scandal, which rocked India in the 1980s, was over allegations that the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors AB paid $640 million as kickbacks to secure a $1.3 billion contract to sell 155 mm field howitzers to the Indian Army.

Meanwhile, Sarna said Sweden was the 12th largest contributor of foreign direct investment in India and 170 Swedish companies were “very active” in the country.

He said Sweden was among the top three innovative nations and India was an ideal destination for expansion of innovations.

“We expect a number of agreements to be signed,” he said.

Answering a query, he said there could be agreements in fields related to urban management, renewable energy and skill development.

He said Sweden has certain capabilities in defence, and there was scope of joint ventures related to the government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign, heavy transport vehicles and defence.

Sarna said that during his visit to Belarus, Mukherjee will unveil a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Belarus State University.

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