Updated: October 19, 2009 09:20 IST

Bofors stigma delaying defence pact with Sweden?

Sandeep Dikshit
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Bofors guns displayed during a Republic Day celebration at Rajpath in New Delhi. File Photo: Kamal Narang
The Hindu
Bofors guns displayed during a Republic Day celebration at Rajpath in New Delhi. File Photo: Kamal Narang

While the government is all set to bury the ghost of Bofors, the stigma of alleged corruption behind the deal for artillery guns for the Army is delaying a defence agreement with Sweden.

The agreement has so far crossed the desk of three defence secretaries even as several pacts with other countries have been signed.

A month before Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt arrives here, primarily to push for the Grippen aircraft in the multi-billion dollar deal for fighter jets, an agreement is still in the works.

Sensing a renewed opportunity in the defence sector, at least six Sweden companies are active in the country but an agreement is yet to emerge.

Stockholm has already posted a Defence Attache at the embassy here to improve ties. The absence of a pact, signed with many countries as a tool to demonstrate political proximity, is jarring when seen against the possibility of Sweden emerging as an attractive destination for skilled Indians. To beat the effects of an ageing population, Sweden has decided to enforce new immigration rules which, it has conveyed, could be attractive to Indian nurses, doctors, IT technicians, engineers and electricians.

Although the Bofors Company has since been sold to BAE Systems, the new management has, what it believes, a cold reception because of its name. The delay in signing a pact could be due to a similar hesitation by bureaucrats, feel diplomats. Repeated trials and cancelled tenders for artillery guns in which Bofors believed it had the edge, led its chairman to express his exasperation in public recently.

But the Army denies the Bofors name tag on one of the competitors was the reason for the absence of a decision on selecting the winner for artillery guns. It claims that sub-systems of competing guns were changed without following procedures.

“I really want to know what the question is so that I can give the right answer,” BAE Systems SWS Defence (formerly Bofors) Chairman Haken Kangert had earlier told The Hindu. Swedish diplomats have also expressed similar sentiments.

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