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Sonia's illness a big blow for the Congress

Last updated on: August 4, 2011 23:48 IST

Sonia's illness a big blow for the Congress

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi
Renu Mittal reports on the developments in the Congress party after Thursday's startling announcement that Sonia Gandhi was to undergo surgery.

The Congress party appears to have been hit by an earthquake.

Party President Sonia Gandhi left for the United States on Wednesday and is reported to have undergone a major surgery in a New York hospital on Thursday morning local time, which is being described as 'successful.'

Party General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi refused to divulge the nature of her illness or the hospital in which she has been admitted.

Sources told this correspondent that Sonia Gandhi underwent surgery at the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer hospital in New York City.

Sloan Kettering is considered one of the world's best hospitals for treatment of cancer.

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Image: Congress party President Sonia Gandhi

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Sonia has been ailing for sometime

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Sonia Gandhi has been ailing for sometime now and is learnt to have sought medical opinion when she traveled abroad earlier.

In India, she was under the treatment at the Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi for a chronic asthma condition.

A senior Congress leader revealed last week that Sonia had viral fever which has been prevalent in the national capital.

A stickler for attending Parliament when she is in Delhi, Sonia was missing from the Lok Sabha after the monsoon session began on Monday, August 1.

Dwivedi said she is expected to be away for the next two to three weeks.

The feeling is that she may be out of active working mode for much longer, depending on how quickly she recovers after the operation, and whether she requires further medical treatment in the US or India.


Image: The Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer hospital in New York, where Sonia reportedly has been admitted

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Rahul will be the Congress' working president

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An indication of this has come from her decision to appoint a committee to run the party while she is away.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadhra accompanied their mother to New York. Rahul is expected to return to India soon and take over the reigns of the Congress party in his mother's absence.

Rahul, currently the party general secretary, will function as the Congress' working president though he has not been officially assigned that role, party sources said.

Sonia informed Congress members through a letter that she is appointing a four-member committee to manage the day-to-day running of the party.

The committee consists of Defence Minister A K Antony, Rahul Gandhi, Sonia's political secretary Ahmed Patel and party spokesperson Janardan Dwivedi.

Antony, the senior leader, will head the group and call meetings, though effectively Rahul Gandhi will call the shots.


Image: Congress party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi

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'Digvijay's omission a mystery'

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Sources said this may be the appropriate time for Sonia Gandhi to push Rahul into taking a more active role in the running of the Congress party with the help of senior leaders.

What intrigued political watchers is the omission of General Secretary Digvijay Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee from the group.

A senior leader said Pranab has not been included because the monsoon session of Parliament is on, and as the leader of the House and the chief troubleshooter for the government, he has his hands full.

Digvijay Singh's absence is a mystery, sources say.

Sources in the Lok Sabha Speaker's office say Sonia Gandhi has not sent a letter asking for leave from attending Parliament.


Image: Congress party General Secretary Digvijay Singh

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A bolt from the blue

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According to the rules, if a member is absent for more than 20 sittings, a letter has to be given which is read out by the Speaker in the House.

It is unlikely that Sonia will attend the monsoon session of Parliament, a senior Congress leader said.

'Get well' messages for Sonia Gandhi have already come in from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj.

For a party like the Congress which is heavily dependent on the charisma of the Gandhi family, the news of Sonia Gandhi's illness has come as a bolt from the blue.


Image: Sonia Gandhi at a rally in Gujarat
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com
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