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President Says Gandhi Ignored Him on Key Issues : Letter Reveals Friction Between Indian Leaders

March 14, 1987|From Reuters

NEW DELHI — Bad blood between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Zail Singh burst into the open Friday as India's 71-year-old president accused Gandhi of unconstitutional and distressing behavior toward his office.

The president, a Sikh whose poor relations with the 42-year-old prime minister have been an open secret for months, made the accusations in a private letter to Gandhi leaked to the Indian Express newspaper and published on its front page.

Singh's five-year terms ends in July, and there has been press speculation that he wants to be reelected by the electoral college of members of the national Parliament and the state assemblies.

His letter came amid widespread criticism of Gandhi for his deficit economic policies and for failure to push through key political programs such as the Punjab peace accord.

'Dear Rajiv'

The "My dear Rajiv" letter, dated March 9, said that Gandhi had misinformed Parliament on March 3 about his relations with the president, whom he had failed to keep informed or regularly consult on important matters.

India's president is a largely ceremonial chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces.

The letter said that Gandhi had failed to follow the constitution and well-established practices and conventions in his dealings with the presidency.

A presidential spokesman declined to confirm or deny the letter's validity. "You can say I plead ignorance," he said.

In Parliament, opposition members stormed out of the lower house after a 15-minute uproar when the Speaker refused to let them raise the issue on grounds that the presidential office should not be politicized.

Signing Delayed

Singh is currently showing his ability to embarrass the government by delaying signing into law a postal bill authorizing interception of mail on security grounds.

In an address Thursday to businessmen in Poona, Singh also said the government should take care that its controversial tax raids on business and industrial houses did not harass the innocent or damage the image of industrialists.

Singh's letter followed a March 3 statement by Gandhi to Parliament that he and his ministers frequently consulted the president and always did so on important issues in accordance with the constitution.

"As you are aware, the factual position is somewhat at variance with what has been said by you," Singh's letter said.

"I am constrained to say that certain well established conventions have not been followed."

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