India's Sonia Gandhi travels abroad for medical 'check-up'

Sonia Gandhi in January Sonia Gandhi is India's most powerful politician

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India's governing Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi has travelled abroad for a "routine check-up" six months after undergoing surgery for an undisclosed medical condition, a spokesman said.

Congress party spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi said Mrs Gandhi would "be back in Delhi in four or five days".

Mrs Gandhi, 64, is seen as India's most powerful politician.

She holds no official post, but many consider her the de facto head of the government.

The party has consistently refused to comment on the nature of the illness or where she went for surgery in August.

But media reports have suggested she was treated at a specialist cancer hospital in New York.

Surprise

For the past month, Mrs Gandhi has been addressing election rallies for the ongoing crucial assembly elections in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Italian-born Mrs Gandhi is the widow of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. She nominated Manmohan Singh to the prime minister's post in 2004 and is widely believed to be more powerful than him.

The powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has ruled India for most of the time since the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

The news that Mrs Gandhi had gone abroad came as a complete surprise when it was first announced in August.

Some also wondered why she chose to go elsewhere for surgery when India has some of the best medical facilities and doctors in the world.

Some reports suggested she needed specialist treatment not yet available in India.

Others said Mrs Gandhi wanted to avoid the inevitable media circus that would engulf any Indian hospital where she sought treatment.

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