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Profile : Sonia Was Once A Reluctant Politician

New Delhi : Sonia Gandhi, who is set to be re-elected as Congress Chief for a record fourth term after holding the top post for 12 years, was once a reluctant politician whose crowning glory
PTI September 03, 2010 19:11 IST
New Delhi : Sonia Gandhi, who is set to be re-elected as Congress Chief for a record fourth term after holding the top post for 12 years, was once a reluctant politician whose crowning glory came when the Congress leading the UPA retained power last year.

Sonia(63), the shy and reticent politician who entered the Indian scene as the demure Italian bride of Rajiv Gandhi in 1968, has so far been unanimously elected as Congress president barring once when Jitendra Prasada, a senior leader from Uttar Pradesh, had thrown his hat in the ring but failed miserably in the polls in 2000. She filed her nomination papers today.

A three-time Lok Sabha MP from Rae Bareli, she officially took charge of the 125-year-old Congress party as its President in 1998, becoming the fifth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the eighth foreign-born person to become the party chief. She received enough flak when Congress fared badly in the 1999 general elections.

Often attacked for her foreign origin, Sonia has travelled far since she tentatively entered the country's political maelstrom in the 1990s after the assassination of her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

The daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, she won a general election victory for teh party in May 2004 but then took a pass on the prime minister's job, giving it to  Manmohan Singh.

With one deft stroke in 2004, Gandhi turned herself from outsider to future Prime Minister to the paragon of sacrifice. By refusing the Prime Ministership, she took the wind out of the sails of BJP's single-point agenda; should a foreigner become the country's prime minister.

Though critics used the move to call into question her power, Sonia is still widely revered, especially among the country's millions of poor. She solidly stood behind the prime minister with her unwavering support and worked in tandem.

The campaign for the 15th Lok Sabha elections last year saw the naturally shy Sonia take on leaders of rival BJP with aplomb blunting their venomous attacks on the party and Manmohan Singh. Sonia seems to have shed her formerly taciturn manner, routinely working the crowds at political meetings and displaying a more combative approach.

After Rajiv's death, Sonia became reclusive, but she later returned to public life ready to serve.

Sonia Maino, the daughter of a small building contractor who was raised in a conservative Roman Catholic family near Turin, was eventually persuaded to pick up the torch and became the leader of the Congress party in 1998, giving it a Gandhi figurehead once again.

Sonia has often dismissed her foreign birth as unimportant. She is little known in Italy and became an Indian citizen in 1983. She said that her foreign birth might work against her with some, but that in rural areas--especially among the woman and the poor--she was no outsider.

"I never felt they look at me as a foreigner," she had once said. "Because I am not, I am an Indian."  She first came to prominence as Prime Minister's wife, then as his widow, nearly two decades back.

As Sonia paved her steps slowly into the highly influenced corridors of the Indian politics, she emerged as Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance(UPA) in the Lok Sabha and the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. In 2004, she was named by the 'Forbes' magazine the third most powerful woman in the world. For the year 2007 she was named among the Time magazine's 100 most influential people.

Born on December nine, 1946 in a middle class family in Italy, she went to the UK in 1964 to study English at the Bell Educational Trust's language school in the city of Cambridge. It was here that during a certificate course she had a chance meeting with Rajiv, the elder son of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Sonia earlier used to avoid political happenings and served as the perfect housewife. Her involvement with Indian public life began after the assassination of her mother-in-law and her husband's election as Prime Minister.

 At times she was also involved in looking after her husband's constituency of Amethi. In 1984, she actively campaigned against her sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi who was at that time contesting against Rajiv  in the constituency of Amethi.

Initially reluctant to enter politics, the dwindling position that the Congress was facing along with the revolts of many top ranking Congress leaders forced Sonia to reconsider her decision.

 She had resisted Congress attempts to persuade her to step into Rajiv's shoes and eschewed politics for several years. In the Calcutta Plenary Session of the Congress in the year 1997 she finally joined the Congress Party as a primary member.

Eventually, in 1998, Sonia agreed to become more involved in the party, but her initial efforts were overshadowed by Congress' humiliating defeat at the hands of the BJP in the 1999 election.

During her tenure as the Leader of the Opposition, she was firm in her responsibility and led the party to a thumping victory in the 2004 Parliamentary elections. In the newly created UPA headed by the Congress, she became the Chairperson.

In a minor setback, Sonia was embroiled in the Office of Profit controversy and resigned from the Lok Sabha and also as Adviser of the National Advisory Council.

According to electoral laws, an elected person cannot hold an office of profit (meaning paid posts). She was, however, re-elected from her constituency in Rae Bareli in May 2006 by a margin of over four lakh votes and has never looked back. PTI

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