India’s 76-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underwent heart bypass surgery yesterday, raising questions about his political future with general elections looming.
Doctors decided to perform the surgery, which could take up to eight hours, after Singh complained of chest pains last week, the Press Trust of India (PTI) said.
“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was wheeled into the operation theater at 5:30am. The operation finally began at 7:15am and is expected to last for seven to eight hours,” Sudhir Vaishnav of Mumbai’s Asian Heart Institute told PTI.
The operation was being carried out at the premier state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and doctors said the prime minister was likely to need a month of rest afterwards.
A team of 11 doctors from the Asian Heart Institute flew from India’s financial capital Mumbai for the operation, Vaishnav said.
A hospital source earlier said doctors were “looking at the removal of two blockages. The rest of the regime will be decided when the surgery is on.”
Singh, a diabetic who walks regularly, 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 and has also had cataract treatment.
India is to hold general elections before May, and the ruling Congress Party has so far said the quietly spoken economist and politician will head the party into the polls.
Congress had earlier dismissed concerns that Singh’s health would interfere with its election campaign, and said the prime minister was “absolutely fine.”
But there has been widespread speculation that party chief Sonia Gandhi has been lining up her son, Rahul Gandhi, heir to the powerful Gandhi dynasty, as the country’s next prime minister.
An editorial in yesterday’s Times of India newspaper said Singh’s leadership would be missed during this time of economic turbulence and tense relations with neighboring Pakistan, but that it was time to look for younger leaders.
The paper said the prime minister’s age and health would be a concern to an electorate, which is looking for younger leaders, with 51 percent of India’s population of 1.1 billion under 25 and two-thirds under 35.
Singh’s operation was front-page news in all national dailies and dominated television newscasts.
“PM’s heart surgery today,” said a headline in the Hindustan Times, a leading daily.
Prayer sessions were held across the country for Singh’s swift recovery and political leaders from all sides expressed hopes for a speedy return to good health.
“We have been worried about his health ever since we heard the news. I am sure he will be alright soon,” said opposition Hindu nationalist leader Lal Krishna Advani
Government officials said Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee would take charge of Cabinet meetings during the prime minister’s absence and would also assume control of the finance portfolio, currently held by Singh.