(Adds background, details)
By Krittivas Mukherjee
NEW DELHI, Sept 8 Sonia Gandhi, the head of
India's ruling Congress party, returned home on Thursday after a
month of medical treatment in the United States which left the
government rudderless to deal with the biggest protests in
"She came back this morning and she is fine," Congress party
spokesman Janadhan Dwivedi told Reuters.
The absence of the 64-year-old, India's most powerful
politician who runs the country behind the scenes, has caused
serious problems for the coalition government, accused of
mishandling the anti-corruption protests and worsening ties with
Gandhi's illness added to an already long list of problems
besieging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has fallen behind
schedule with a reform agenda he himself considers vital to
bringing India's economic growth closer to double-digits.
Concern remains whether the Italian-born Gandhi will be well
enough to take the reins of a divided party and a drifting
coalition government sagging in opinion polls.
"She will take advice from the doctors now," Dwivedi said.
Asked when Gandhi could resume her public life, he said:
"How can you talk about something like that now? It will depend
on doctors. All I can say is that she is fine."
Broadcaster CNN IBN, citing party sources, said she may need
another month to recover.
The party has declined to comment on the nature of her
illness. But several media outlets have said she was treated for
cancer at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
CONCERN ABOUT SON'S LEADERSHIP
After leaving for surgery, Gandhi promoted her son Rahul,
still seen as inexperienced, to help manage the party in her
absence. He is widely expected to be the next prime minister if
the Congress party returns to power in 2014 elections.
The government looked rudderless during anti-graft protests
led by 74-year-old activist Anna Hazare, who forced the prime
minister to back down and agree to tougher anti-corruption
The government was sharply criticised for failing to head
off a bomb attack at the capital's High Court on Wednesday which
killed 12 people. The court has no CCTV cameras and handheld
scanners were not working on the day of the attack.
A low-intensity bomb exploded at the same court in May.
Rahul, who was under fire for failing to take leadership
during his mother's absence, and Prime Minister Singh were
heckled when they visited blast victims at a Delhi hospital.
Recent opinion polls show support for the centre-left
Congress party sharply falling behind the opposition Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Congress party is still expected to hobble along until
2014 elections as the opposition feels a snap election will not
yet be an automatic return to power.
In an attempt to regain the political initiative, the
government presented to parliament on Wednesday a reform to
replace a century-old land acquisition law that seeks to placate
a rural voter base worried it is being short-changed in the
country's rush into modernisation.
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 independence
hero Mahatma Gandhi, a close ally of Nehru.
Out of respect, normally clamorous 24-hour news stations
have been almost silent on Gandhi's condition or what her
absence meant for running the world's largest democracy.
India's main political parties have also largely shied away
from commenting on Sonia's absence.
She was married to Rajiv Gandhi, 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.
(Writing by Paul de Bendern; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)