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Has Sonia gone back to London?

Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi. REUTERS

well-informed official claims that UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has once again gone off on a private jet to London,"accompanied by the same Delhi doctor who has been taking care of her (medical) condition for the past year". The official could not reveal the name of the hospital where Mrs Gandhi is presumed to have checked in for "intensive tests",except to say that it was "the same as on two previous visits to the city". According to him,Sonia Gandhi was accompanied out of Delhi by a close relative,"and two more have joined her there."

Unlike the leaders of other democracies,who inform their citizens in detail about their medical condition and the treatment provided, there is a tradition in India of keeping the same as a state secret. Thus it was a shock to the country when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came down with a stroke in 1964,although those working closely with him had seen signs of tiredness and mental drift for several months previous to the neurological attack. P.V. Narasimha Rao and A.B. Vajpayee are other Prime Ministers who kept their medical conditions a secret, while President K R Narayanan shocked his Chinese hosts at Kunming when he could not disembark by ladder from his aircraft,and had to be taken down secretly by a ramp,the same used when food gets loaded onto flights.

Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee had prolonged periods of treatment, with medication that in the opinion of doctors affected their capacity to concentrate or even to work. However,both were dismissive of occasional reports of their being unwell. In the Vajpayee period, TIME magazine was placed in the doghouse after its Delhi correpondent penned a report on Vajpayee's precarious state of health. However, none of the country's previous leaders have gone as far as Sonia Gandhi in shooing off any reporting of her health. What seems clear, however, is that the Congress President is disappearing from view for long periods of time, and some of these disappearances are subsequently revealed to be for medical reasons. "Had she told the truth,Sonia would have won the respect and sympathy of her people.But keeping her medical condition secret is telling people that they dont deserve the privilege of knowing the truth about her health". According to the official, Mrs Gandhi "has planned to return to Delhi immediately after the consultation."

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