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Sonia Gandhi returns to public life after surgery

The Indian media has largely stayed away from covering the illness of Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party, and no images of her had been released by her party since she slipped out of the country in August for an operation.

The president of India's Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, pays floral tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary at his memorial in New Delhi yesterday, her first public appearance since her return from the US, where she had undergone surgery for an undisclosed ailment. Mustafa Quraishi / AP Photo
The president of India's Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, pays floral tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary at his memorial in New Delhi yesterday, her first public appearance since her return from the US, where she had undergone surgery for an undisclosed ailment. Mustafa Quraishi / AP Photo

NEW DELHI // Sonia Gandhi, the head of India's ruling Congress party, made her first public appearance yesterday since she travelled to the US for surgery for an undisclosed ailment almost two months ago.

A slightly frail-looking Mrs Gandhi appeared at a memorial to the independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, and paid floral tributes on his birth anniversary. She walked in her usual brisk pace and showed little sign of any discomfort.

Mrs Gandhi, 64, also participated in a brief prayer meeting with other political leaders, television images showed.

Her absence coincided with a plunge in popularity for the centre-left Congress party, buffeted by the biggest anti-corruption protests since the 1970s, high inflation and challenges from the opposition that frequently halted parliament proceedings.

Mrs Gandhi returned to India in early September after the surgery and chaired a closed-door party meeting last month.

The Indian media has largely stayed away from covering her illness and no images of her had been released by her party since she slipped out of the country in early August for an operation.

Neither Mrs Gandhi nor her party have disclosed the nature of her illness or how serious it was, but several media reports said she was operated on for cancer at a specialist hospital in New York. The Gandhi family, descended from India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, enjoys a status similar to royalty in the country of 1.2 billion. They are not related to Mahatma Gandhi, a close ally of Mr Nehru.

The Italian-born Mrs Gandhi was married to Rajiv Gandhi, Mr Nehru's grandson and a former prime minister, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991 while campaigning for elections.

His mother, Indira Gandhi, was also prime minister when she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Ms Gandhi's son, Rahul, is widely expected to be the next prime minister if the Congress party returns to power in the next 2014 general elections.