By Uttara Choudhury
New York: Indian Overseas Congress party workers and reporters staked out New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to find out what exactly ails sprightly 64-year-old Sonia Gandhi. The Gandhi family is dealing with her surgery for an undisclosed medical condition with more secrecy than Israel’s Mossad.
According to diplomatic sources, Sonia Gandhi’s old friend Pulok Chatterji, who is now India’s executive director at the World Bank in Washington, quietly made the super-efficient arrangements for her surgery.
The Indian embassy in Washington and Indian consulate in New York were kept in the dark to avoid media leaks. Chatterji will soon be returning to India to join the PM’s Office as Principal Secretary.
Chatterji and his aide at the executive director’s office, Rupes Dalal, travelled to New York on Monday to smooth Gandhi’s admission to Sloan-Kettering’s in-patient facility. Chatterji has informed his World Bank bosses that he will be back in Washington on 10 August.
Once Gandhi recovers from her surgery, she may be moved into a large hotel-like suite at the Weill Cornell Medical Center or the Columbia University Medical Center at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. These comfortable hospital suites with stunning views of the Hudson River and Manhattan’s skyline are better equipped to handle the crush of expected visitors.
Members of the Indian Overseas Congress trickled into the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to get news about the Congress leader and glimpse her children Rahul and Priyanka and son-in-law Robert Vadra. The wait has proved futile so far but the vigil continues on Friday.
"I just couldn't sit at home anymore," said Manhattan restaurant owner Harshpal Singh, who is a member of the Indian Overseas Congress. "I was getting too depressed and wanted to be here to show support for Mrs Gandhi and her family."
India’s Gandhi family has pulled off something most powerful American political dynasties can’t (or don’t) do. The Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre does not have Sonia Gandhi’s name in the hospitalised patient data system. At this point she is a ghost!
“She may be an unlisted VIP patient. Her name may not show up in the hospital data system because she could be using some other name to throw the media off,” said a staff member at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who did not want to be named.
So far, Congress party spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi has only confirmed that Gandhi had surgery abroad on Thursday evening and "the operation was successful." It is still unknown whether it is a cancer-related surgery although Gandhi is said to be recovering in an ICU at Sloan-Kettering Centre, where the primary focus is cancer. The physicians at Sloan Kettering treat more cancer patients in a year than most doctors’ treat in a lifetime.
Gandhi will remain in New York for up to three weeks, while Rahul, who has accompanied his mother, returns to India to be the glue behind the four-member committee looking after the affairs of the Congress.
Gandhi didn’t turn over the leadership of the Congress Party to anyone when she was hospitalised in 2008 for breathing difficulties so her actions this time round suggest she is undergoing major surgery. She has also created a buzz by elevating her son and general secretary Rahul Gandhi as co-leader of India’s oldest political party.
In Gandhi’s absence, Rahul, along with Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, defence minister AK Antony and party veteran Janardhan Dwivedi, all of whom are family loyalists, will be in charge of the Congress party. Analysts say the move positions Rahul as the likely successor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.