India’s Sonia Gandhi on way to US for health check

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s most powerful politician and leader of the ruling Congress party alliance Sonia Gandhi has left for the United States for a health check, party officials said Tuesday.

Gandhi left New Delhi on Monday evening for a regular health check and was expected to return in eight days, party Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters. He did not give any other details.

The Congress party has long kept a careful veil over Gandhi’s personal life despite her immense influence. She flew the United States for surgery in 2011, with some Indian news outlets saying she had been treated for cancer. But the party never gave more than cursory information about her illness, calling it a personal matter.

Last week, Gandhi was rushed to a New Delhi hospital for a few hours after she fell ill during a debate in Parliament.

Gandhi is the Italian-born widow of slain former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. After his death, she entered politics reluctantly but has led the Congress party to successive election triumphs in 2004 and 2009.

She is widely seen as the true power behind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the quiet technocrat who has held India’s top job since the party returned to power in 2004. The Congress party has been badly battered over the past year or so by a series of corruption scandals, bitter internal feuding and an inability to deal with a stumbling economy and deep-rooted problems with poverty, infrastructure and education.

India holds its next national elections in 2014.

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