Sonia Gandhi is an Italian-born Indian politician, who was also elected as the President of the Indian National Congress.
Full Name: Antonia Edvige Albina Maino
Born: December 9, 1946
Parents: Stefano Maino, Paola Maino
Place of birth: Lusiana, Veneto, Italy
Education: Bell Educational Trust, Cambridge
Spouse: Late Rajiv Gandhi
Key achievements: Elected as President of the Indian National Congress in 1998, President of Congress for 10 consecutive years as of 2008, longest serving president in the history of Congress, named the third most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine in the year 2004, named among Time's 100 most influential people in the world for the years 2007 and 2008.
Sonia Gandhi, born as Antonia Edvige Albina Maino, is perhaps one of the most influential figures in the history of Indian Politics. She was born to an Italian mason named Stefano Maino, and his wife, Paola Maino, on December 9, 1946. Having completed her elementary education and schooling in Italy, she moved to the city of Cambridge in England. It was here that she met her spouse, Rajiv Gandhi, who was the elder son of Indira Gandhi, the first woman Prime Minister of India.
Rajiv and Sonia
Rajiv Gandhi was enrolled in Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, while Sonia studied English at the Bell Educational Trust's language school. They both met each other in 1965, at a Greek restaurant, where Sonia worked as a waitress. Following their marriage in 1968 as per Hindu traditions, the Gandhi family along with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi welcomed Sonia as their daughter-in-law, as did the rest of India.
At first, both Rajiv and Sonia avoided all contact with politics, especially after the birth of their children: Rahul Gandhi in 1970 and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in 1972. However, following the ousting of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister in 1977, and the demise of his brother Sanjay Gandhi in 1980, Rajiv Gandhi decided to take up the baton of carrying the Nehru-Gandhi legacy forward. He entered politics in 1982, when Sonia Gandhi also actively campaigned for her husband’s success in the forthcoming elections.
During this period she visited many states and cities across India to garner the trust and votes of millions of people. After Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India in the year 1984, she accompanied him on various events as his hostess, on political as well as cultural platforms. She also had to deal with a fair number of controversies during this time, be it regarding her dual nationality, illegal presence of her name in the voters’ list, or her alleged links with Ottavio Quattrochi, an Italian businessman who was implicated in the Bofors scandal.
Refusal to become Prime Minister of India
However, the biggest blow dealt to her was the assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur near Chennai during a campaign rally in 1991. In the aftermath of this tragedy, she was approached by many members of the Congress party to become the Prime Minister of India, an offer which she declined. P.V. Narasimha Rao was promoted to Prime Minister for the next few years, during which Sonia Gandhi stayed away from any sort of political limelight.
President of the Indian National Congress Party
In 1996, Congress had lost out to BJP, which prompted Mrs. Gandhi to take efforts in the direction of reviving its fortunes. Having joined as a primary member of the Congress party in 1997, she went on to be elected as the party leader in 1998. She was also made the leader of the opposition during the NDA rule in 1999. She contested her first ever Lok Sabha elections from Bellary in Karnataka and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh in the same year, and came out triumphant against BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj.
Refusal to become Prime Minister of India again
From this point in time, Sonia Gandhi became stronger and stronger regarding her political career. Undoubtedly, the highest point in her individual career came in 2004 when she led Congress to a resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections. She campaigned vociferously for the cause and raised issues regarding the “Aam Aadmi”, i.e. the common man of India. Following this electoral success, she was expected to become the second woman Prime Minister of India, but to the surprise of all, she endorsed Dr. Manmohan Singh as the next Prime Minister of the Country.
Refusal to become Prime Minister of India yet again
After a successful five year stint running the country, in 2009 Congress was confronted with a major challenge in the form of the term end Lok Sabha polls. Once again Sonia Gandhi was instrumental in gaining the nation’s confidence across people of all ages, genders, castes, cities, towns, states, etc., resulting in the encore of Congress’s 2004 success. Yet again, Sonia Gandhi appointed Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of India, preferring to shy away from the spotlight.
Among many reasons for her repeatedly declining the post of the Prime Minister of India, her foreign origin prominently comes to the fore. The BJP, especially during its active participation in the NDA, has never failed to debate this issue. Many claim her to be the background ventriloquist for Manmohan Singh’s tacit demeanor in observing the affairs of the country. She has often been alleged by the opposition as covertly being the de facto Prime Minister of the country. Sonia Gandhi has marched on as years have rolled by, and come the 2014 Lok Sabha General Assembly Elections of India, Mrs. Gandhi still holds the key to Congress’ fortunes.