Indian PM Singh reported stable after surgery

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underwent coronary bypass surgery on Saturday.

Indian PM Singh reported stable after surgery

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underwent coronary bypass surgery on Saturday, with local television channels saying his condition was stable after a seven hour operation.

Doctors are due to give a briefing on the prime minister's condition at 6 p.m. local (1230 GMT).

The 76-year-old leader may be unable to return to work for several weeks, while confusion has emerged about who would be charge of government just months before a general election.

Some officials said Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee would take over most prime ministerial responsibilities, including defence, security and the finance portfolio, while Singh was recovering from the surgery.

"Pranab Mukherjee is in charge of the government until the prime minister resumes his duty," an official in the prime minister's office, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.

"This is normal procedure as he is the most senior member of the cabinet, so there has been no official announcement."

But a government spokesman insisted this was not the case.

"The prime minister is still in charge," he told Reuters. "Nobody has taken over his functions."

That confusion was mirrored in the media, where some papers and television channels said Mukherjee was in charge but others disagreed.

"Nobody named in charge," the Mail Today announced on its front page. "No clarity on who controls the nukes. No succession plan leads to ad hocism.

The confusion led to speculation that the ruling Congress party did not want to give Mukherjee a public endorsement as acting prime minister just before an election, and overshadow other candidates within Congress battling to be Singh's successor.

Many ceremonial duties, for example, will be transferred to the vice-president, not Mukherjee.

The operation came just as reports surfaced that Rahul Gandhi, heir to one of India's most powerful family dynasties, was emerging as a potential successor.

A general election is due by May this year and Singh has been 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.

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

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

"There is 1 to 2 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 Centre Ltd.

In neighbouring Bhutan, hundreds of Buddhist monks have begun special prayers for the Indian prime minister.

Reuters
Last Mod: 24 Ocak 2009, 16:54
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