The United States authorities expected either the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee or the defence minister AK Antony to replace the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on health grounds following his heart surgery before the 2009 general elections.
In a confidential cable sent to Washington and its other major missions across the world, by the US embassy in New Delhi on January 23, 2009, it was widely anticipated that Singh would not take part in the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections.
According to the cable, now put in public domain by the Wikileaks, commerce minister Anand Sharma and senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh had confirmed to the US embassy, the news about Singh being admitted to the hospital for the heart bypass surgery.
In its assessment of the situation, the embassy noted that Singh's health issues had opened up the debate once again of who will be Prime Minister if the Congress Party returns to power after the elections.
“Mukherjee and Defence Minister Antony are obvious candidates should Manmohan Singh not be up for the job. Rahul Gandhi's chances will increase if the Congress does better than expected in the April-May elections,” states the cable.
The U.S. embassy quoted the external affairs ministry officials on “Mukherjee having already assumed the responsibilites of the Prime Minister till Singh is well enough to resume his duties.”
The Prime Minister’s Office expected Singh to be out of action for about a month due to the surgery :“The surgery procedure is expected to last two-three hours followed by a four-week recuperation period….The medical team is likely to recommend that the Prime Minister excuse himself from election campaigning this March-May,” states the cable.
Singh, however, had the last laugh and returned to work in the first week of March, proving all the speculation wrong.