Successful heart surgery for Indian PM Singh

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has undergone a successful heart bypass surgery, according to his doctors, just months before a critical general election and amid concerns over the 76-year-old leader's health.


AFP - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underwent successful heart bypass surgery Saturday, doctors said, only months before he is due to lead the ruling Congress into national elections.

"Everything has gone off well and he will be kept in the intensive cardiac care unit for 48 hours for observation," heart surgeon Sudhir Vaishnav told the Press Trust of India.

The news agency quoted an official of the prime minister's office as saying the 76-year-old Singh was on a ventilator and was expected to regain consciousness on Sunday.

"The entire country is rejoicing because our prime minister has come out successfully from the operation," Congress spokesman Veerappa Moily said after the procedure, which has raised questions about Singh's political future.

"The doctors are quite confident (about the prime minister's condition)," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters in the capital.

The premier state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, where Singh is being treated, was under high security, with armed guards keeping a strict watch.

A detailed official statement was expected later in the weekend on the condition of Singh, who had been suffering from multiple blockages. Doctors said he would remain in hospital for at least eight days.

Medics decided to perform the bypass surgery after he complained of chest pains earlier in the week.

But it has prompted concerns that his health could interfere with the Congress party's campaign for a general election due to be held before May.

Singh, a diabetic, underwent heart bypass surgery in Britain in 1990 and angioplasty in 2003. He has largely been in good health since he was sworn in as prime minister in May 2004, but recently underwent prostate surgery.

"His condition remained stable during the surgery and utmost care was being taken to prevent any bleeding because of the stitching," Vaishnav, of Mumbai's Asian Heart Institute, said.

Before the operation, doctors were upbeat about his prognosis, saying they expected him to be back at work within a month.

Congress said earlier in the week that the quietly spoken economist and politician would lead the party into the polls.

Sanjaya Baru, the premier's former media advisor, said Singh was "the kind of person who bounces back much faster than others" from medical problems.

However, commentators said the surgery raised questions about his leadership with a gruelling election campaign looming.

An editorial in the Times of India newspaper said Singh's guiding hand would be missed during this time of economic turbulence and tense relations with neighbouring Pakistan, but that it was time to look for younger leaders.

The paper said his age and health would be a concern to an electorate looking for younger leaders, with 51 percent of India's population of 1.1 billion under 25 and two-thirds under 35.

But the Congress spokesman called it "irrelevant to talk about it (a change in leadership). Manmohan Singh is our prime minister and our vibrant prime minister."

Government officials said Mukherjee would take charge of cabinet meetings during the premier's absence and would also assume control of the finance portfolio, currently held by Singh.

But no official acting prime minister had been named.

Mukherjee called his additional duties "normal, routine things," adding "the government is in place."

There has been widespread speculation that party chief Sonia Gandhi is lining up her son, Rahul Gandhi, heir to India's powerful Gandhi dynasty, as the next prime minister.

Prayer sessions were held across the country for Singh's recovery and political leaders from all sides expressed hopes for a speedy return to good health.

Family members offered prayers at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site in the Sikh religion, to which the prime minister belongs.

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