Congress president Sonia Gandhi has had to travel abroad for surgery and a four-member committee including her son Rahul Gandhi would oversee party affairs in her absence, the Congress announced today.
Without specifying the illness Gandhi was suffering from, the party said ethics committee chairman and senior leader AK Antony, politicial advisor to the Congress president Ahmad Patel and chief media spokesman Janardan Dwivedi would be the other members of the committee.
In the constitution of the committee, Gandhi has ensured all the most important poles of power and patronage in the party have been covered. Patel and Dwivedi have a working relationship and Antony has no detractors.
Interestingly, neither Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nor chief trouble shooter in the government Pranab Mukherjee were asked to be on the committee. Rahul Gandhi's right hand man Digvijay Singh was also not part of the committee.
The party said Sonia Gandhi had undergone surgery successfully but was expected to be abroad for two to three weeks, and the committee would take care of any party-related issues.
The party did not say who was paying for the treatment of the United Progressive Alliance chairperson, who enjoys the rank of a cabinet minister and is entitled to the corresponding medical perks. However, the policy on treatment abroad is not clear. Government sources said typically, the government paid for life-saving treatment abroad for cabinet ministers, including expenses for the passage and stay of one attendant. Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka has reportedly accompanied her.
In the case of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a foreign doctor of Indian origin had performed the operation when he went for a bypass surgery.
However, Singh went through the surgery in an Indian hospital.
Some months ago, activists in the Congress had mounted a campaign lobbying for Rahul Gandhi to be appointed the party’s working president or vice-president. This time, no such clamour is evident.
A few weeks ago, Manmohan Singh had said he would be happy to step down in favour of Gandhi, but the party had not discussed the possibility. The PM said he had asked Gandhi a number of times to join the government but he was told the latter was “busy” with party work.
Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi told the media, “Mrs Gandhi was recently diagnosed with a medical condition and upon the advice of her doctors, has travelled abroad for surgery.” He said a caretaker team had been appointed to “look after the affairs of the Congress party.”
Replying to questions, Dwivedi said, “We have just got information that the surgery was successful and her condition is satisfactory.”