NEW DELHI, India, May 8, (Reuter): Opposition Members walked out of the Indian Parliament’s Lower House today in protest against Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s refusal to share information on arms sales corruption scandals with President Zail Singh.
The fragmented, vastly outnumbered opposition had’ demanded a discussion on the Gandhi’s constitutional duty to furnish information to the President, India’s ceremonial head of State and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
But when Lok Sabha (Lower House) Speaker Balram Jakhar would not assure the members the issue would be discussed, nearly all Opposition members walked out.
The walkout punctuated a simmering row between Singh and Gandhi over the Prime Minister’s duty to provide information to the President on issues of national importance. Gandhi has chosen to interpret this constitutional requirement more narrowly than does Singh.
The row with Singh comes at an inconvenient time for the Gandhi government which is reeling from a series Of allegations of payoffs made in connection with arms purchases.
Singh, 71, swore in Gandhi as Prime Minister after the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi, in 1985, but has locked horns with the 42yearold leader on a series Of issues in the past few weeks and demand information from the government. In Parliament, the opposition presented a motion to fame rules and guidelines on the Prime Minister’s constitutional duties but failed to force an immediate debate.
Madhu Dandavate of the Janata Party, who presented the opposition motion, said the question of Prime Minister’s duties should be resolved before the Presidential election, adding: “What is the point if this is done after five years”.
Gandhi’s own reputation as “Mr. Clean” has been tarnished by allegations of payoffs and kickbacks and he has increasingly come under heavy opposition fire in Parliament.
The latest scandal is linked to allegations of payoffs by Bofors for securing a 1.3 million dollar contract for 155mm Howitzers.
The charge was first made last month by the official Swedish radio and New Delhi has asked Stockholm to investigate whether any middlemen were involved or paid commissions.
Before signing the deal, Bofors and the Indian government had agreed that no middlemen would be involved but the Swedish radio said up to five million dollars was paid into secret bank accounts in Switzerland.
Also under investigation by Defense Ministry are questions of improper payments in connection with the purchase in the early 1980s of West German submarines. IS His latest communication to Gandhi asked for information on allegations of payoffs by Swedish armsmaker Bofors to officials and politicians.
Ruling Congress (1) Party sources yesterday told Reuters that
Gandhi, in a letter approved by his cabinet, denied the information to the President.
The House is expected to be adjourned soon and will be reconvened after the presidential election in June.
Singh, whose five year term expires on July 261, has already accused Gandhi of violating his right to know.
Political observers believe the relations between Gandhi and Singh have been the poorest between a Prime Minister and President since the Present constitution took effect in 1950.
Singh has not revealed whether he would seek reelection.
Newspapers have also speculated Singh was contemplating dismissing the Gandhi government for defying the constitution, but legal experts have differed on whether the President could take such a step against a government with two thirds majorities in both Houses of Parliament.
In an unusual step this week the Presidential Palace issued an official denial that Singh was planning to sack him.
The denial failed to quash mounting speculation and members of the ruling party have discussed ways and means to defeat such a step.
Article extracted from this publication >> May 15, 1987