Indian Prime Minister's Health Raises Election Concerns

Amid concern India's prime minister may undergo a heart procedure in February, ahead of national elections, his party is reaffirming its stance there is no vacancy at the top. 

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has resumed work, after medical tests. Domestic media reports say blockages have been found in the heart of the 76-year-old leader and that he will have to undergo treatment, possibly surgery, soon.

Mr. Singh underwent heart bypass surgery in Britain, in 1990, and has had several other unrelated minor surgeries during his five years in office.  The health issue is raising concern the prime minister's re-election campaign could be undermined.

If Mr. Singh's health were to become a larger issue, analysts say Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi would likely push forward her son, Rahul.  The 38-year-old politician is the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers.

Congress Party spokesperson Jayanathi Natarajan is dampening any such speculation. 

The party official says there is no vacancy for the post of prime minister and that Manmohan Singh remains Congress' only contender.

But rivals are beginning to emerge from coalition partners, signaling the potential for the alliance to crack before national elections, due in May.

The general secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party, D.P. Tripathi, says there is a viable alternative to Mr. Singh. 

Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, he said agriculture minister and NCP President Sharad Pawar is qualified and has great ability to be the coalition's candidate, if it is victorious again in this year's election.
The NCP is expressing lukewarm support for 38-year-old Rahul Gandhi, noting he is the "present and the future" of the Congress Party.

A decade ago, the NCP splintered from Congress, opposing the Italian-born and Catholic Sonia Gandhi as leader of the party and a potential prime minister.

Mrs. Gandhi, widow of slain prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, is considered as the ultimate decider of who Congress puts forward as its candidate for prime minister. 

The largest opposition party, the BJP, is led by a man whose advancing age is also an issue.  Party leader L.K. Advani is 81.

A number of figures in both the governing coalition and opposition argue India should have a young and dynamic leader to guide one of the world's largest emerging economies. 



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