Times Now Opts Out Of President's Sweden Trip; Won't Agree To 'Strings Attached', Editor Says

28/05/2015 1:37 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
PRAKASH SINGH via Getty Images
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee gestures to media during a photocall at The Mughal Garden at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on February 13, 2015. The 15-acre area of the Mughal Gardens of Rashtrapati Bhawan was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and have been opened for the annual public viewing from February 14-March 15. AFP PHOTO/ PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- President Pranab Mukherjee's comments denying the Bofors scandal during a recent interview is continuing to have fallouts.

Times Now news channel has decided not to send a journalist as part of the media contingent accompanying President Pranab Mukherjee to protest what the channel saw as "informal verbal directives" to restrict its coverage of the issue, a person familiar with the development said.

The channel's politics editor Navika Kumar was scheduled to travel with the President to Sweden. Now the channel has written to the President's press office saying it won't be part of the trip.

President's press secretary Venu Rajamony declined comment.

"We were invited earlier but won't be going now. We don't believe in journalism with strings attached," Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami told HuffPost India, refusing to elaborate further.

Mukherjee was in the eye of a storm earlier this week when a leading Swedish daily quoted him saying that no court had yet called the controversial procurement of Howitzer guns to the Indian army by Swedish gun manufacturer Bofors in the 1980s a "scandal", adding that it was a media trial.

Read: President Pranab Mukherjee Says Bofors Scandal Was A Media Trial

"No Indian court has established it. I was the defence minister of the country long after Bofors, and all my generals certified that this is one of the best guns we are having," Mukherjee was quoted as saying by Times Of India. "Till today, Indian army is using it. 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 by publicity."

The Bofors scandal is one of India's biggest political scandals. It was alleged that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and other politicians were paid kickbacks by the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors for an order to supply guns to the Indian army. However, the Delhi high court in 2004 ruled that there was no evidence to suggest Gandhi had been involved in these payouts.

The scandal remained a blot of Rajiv Gandhi's political career and was partly responsible for his defeat in the 1989 general elections.

The publishing of the interview, just days before the President's state visit to Sweden, resulted in a tense exchange as India's Ambassador to Sweden and Latvia, Banashri Bose Harrison, wrote a curt letter to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Wednesday, expressing disappointment over the published interview.

According to her, Peter Wolodarski, the paper's editor-in-chief who conducted the interview, had behaved in an unprofessional manner by including off-the-record comments in the interview and by positioning the interview as if it was about the Bofors scandal.

Rashtrapati Bhawan sources said the Swedish paper presented the President inadvertently saying Switzerland instead of Sweden as if to show he didn't have his wits about him, even though Mukherjee had corrected his mistake at the end of the interview, and the interlocutor had assured him that it's a common enough error and won't be published.

Read: Indian Ambassador Writes Terse Letter To Swedish Newspaper About Bofors Interview

After Bose Harrison's letter to the newspaper, Wolodarski reportedly said, "I find the ambassador's reaction regretful. It is surprising that someone representing the world's largest democracies is trying to micromanage which questions we should ask a head of state, and which answers should be published."

HuffPost India is published in partnership with the Times Group, which also owns the Times Now television channel.

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