Sonia Gandhi gives first public speech since surgery

Sonia Gandhi pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on 2 October 2011. Sonia Gandhi has not commented on the exact nature of her illness

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India's governing Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi has made her first public speech since undergoing surgery in August in the US.

She spoke at a Congress youth rally in the capital, Delhi, that was organised by her son Rahul and attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Mrs Gandhi was greeted by cheers from thousands who attended the rally.

Her party has repeatedly refused to comment on her illness, but reports suggest she was treated for cancer.

The 64-year-old is seen as India's most powerful politician. She holds no official post, but many consider her to be the de facto head of the government.

Reports said Mrs Gandhi looked tired but spoke for more than 10 minutes at Tuesday's rally.

"You have the power to beat back the forces of oppression and injustice and to make a beautiful life for yourself and for others," news agency AFP quoted her as saying.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also made a speech to the thousands of party members who had gathered ahead of crucial state elections next year.

Correspondents say the Indian government faced serious problems during Mrs Gandhi's month-long absence - particularly in relation to corruption scandals - and might have coped better had she been around to give advice.

Mrs Gandhi is the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. She nominated Manmohan Singh to the prime minister's post in 2004 but is frequently portrayed as being more powerful than him.

She is at the head of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has ruled India for most of the time since independence in 1947.

Many observers and party supporters see Rahul Gandhi, who is currently an MP, as a future prime minister.

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