India PM to undergo bypass surgery

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The Independent Online

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will undergo coronary artery bypass surgery on Saturday, only a few months before he is due to lead the ruling Congress party into general elections.

Any doubts about Singh's health could undermine his re-election campaign, coming just as reports surface that Rahul Gandhi, heir to one of India's most powerful family dynasties, was emerging as his successor to lead the Congress party.

The 76-year-old leader was admitted to hospital Friday, hospital officials said.

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee could take over prime ministerial responsibilities while Singh was recovering from the surgery, a foreign ministry official said.

A general election is due by May this year and Singh was expected to continue as prime minister if the Congress coalition wins. The main battle is between the Congress-led government and a coalition led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The surgery could mean that Singh will not be able to carry out full vote campaigning. But the soft-spoken economist was never central to Congress's campaigning plans, analysts said.

"He was never used much in campaigns. The Gandhi family and regional politicians continue to be more important," said Yashwant Deshmukh, head of C-voter polling agency.

Singh underwent bypass surgery in 1990 in the United Kingdom. He also underwent wrist surgery in 2006, a prostate gland surgery and a cataract removal procedure last year, officials said.

One expert said a new operation presented little risk for the prime minister.

"There is one to two percent risk factor associated with a bypass surgery on a patient with a long history of cardiac problems like the prime minister," said Dr. T.S. Kler, head of cardiology at the Escorts Heart Institute & Research Center Ltd.

"Patients with similar case history such as the prime minister have undergone three bypass surgeries without any problem," he said. "It should take him 3-4 weeks to be fit again and resume normal duties."

Indian shares extended losses after the news, with the benchmark BSE index falling more than 1.5 percent before regaining a little ground.