NEW DELHI, India, May 22, Reuter: India’s President today appeared to call a halt to a three-month wrangle with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi over Gandhi’s attitude towards his constitutional rights.

Sources at the Presidential Palace said President Zail Singh had written to Gandhi insisting on his “unfettered right” to call for information on any government matter and on the Prime Minister’s duty to supply it, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

But the sources said the letter were “quite conciliatory in tone” and indicated that Singh, whose five-year term expires on July 24, would leave it to his successor to thrash the matter out.

Gandhi told reporters last night he had not yet read the matter out. But he was not against a national debate on the constitutional powers of the President.

The Prime Minister has said the nonexecutive President has only a limited right to government information, but he told reporters the issue had turned into a controversy instead of a healthy debate.

The dispute between the 71yearold Sikh President and the 42yearold Prime Minister burst into the open on January 23 when a newspaper published a letter from Singh accusing Gandhi of not keeping him properly briefed and of lying to parliament by saying he had.

Since then, scandals over alleged payoffs to middlemen in arms deals and a series of election reverses have hit Gandhi’s government.

Newspapers had speculated that Singh would use these as an excuse to dismiss the Prime Minister and to man oeuvre himself a second term of the office.

The Palace sources, however, ruled out dismissals, resignations or a further term for the President.

The controversy over the right of the President to get any and all information from the Prime Minister had not been settled with both Zail Singh and Rajiv Gandhi sticking to their divergent stands. President Zail Singh in his reply to the Prime Minister sent on Thursday while reiterating his constitutional right to all information stated that he was leaving it to his successor to pursue the issue. The President has also made it clear that there was no doubt about the duty of the Prime Minister to furnish information relating to the administration and that he had replied to the Prime Minister’s letter only because Rajiv Gandhi had made a reference in a public speech that the President had not replied to him on the issue.

The controversy began with the President Zail Singh questioning the veracity of the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi’s statement in the Lok Sabha in March that the President was being duly informed as required under the Constitution. The President’s letter published in Indian Express led to a clash between the opposition and the treasury benches leading to a no confidence motion on the Speaker for not permitting the House to discuss the communication of President to the Prime Minister. The President subsequently had sought details of the Bofors deal, the controversy over which had led to the resignation of the Defense Minister V.P. Singh. The Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers had taken the stand that the right of information under Article 78 was limited by Article 74 of the Constitution which enjoined upon the President to act according to the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers. At one stage even some Cabinet Ministers and Congress leaders feared that the President might dismiss the government. As an abundant caution a resolution was passed by the Union Cabinet in the case of Bofors deal saying that the information that had been given to the President earlier was sufficient thereby implying that the additional information sought by the President need not be given. Another important matter about which the President was reportedly denied information was with regard to the report of Thakar Commission which had enquired into the assassination of late Indira Gandhi. The Prime Minister had stated that the stand he had taken was that of the government and that he had no personal differences with the President.

Zail Singh in his latest reply has also reportedly stated that he was guided by the Constitution and the public interest in seeking the information from the government over various matters relating to the administration. The President has also stated that he was not pursuing the issue and was leaving it to his successor as he was retiring in another two months. The short letter of the President is also intended to set at rest the speculation that he intended to dismiss the Rajiv government or take steps for himself resigning according to Rashtrapati Bhawan sources. In an informal chat with newsmen, the Prime Minister indicated that he was not against the national debate on the Constitutional powers of the President including the right to get information.

Article extracted from this publication >>  May 29, 1987