|President of the Indian National Congress||Sonia Gandhi|
|Preceded by||Sitaram Kesri|
|Succeeded by||Rahul Gandhi|
|Born||Sonia Maino 9 December 1946 (age 71) Lusiana, Veneto, Italy|
|Political party||Indian National Congress|
|Spouse(s)||Rajiv Gandhi (m. 1968; d. 1991)|
|Residence||10 Janpath, New Delhi|
|Alma mater||Bell Educational Trust|
Sonia Gandhi born 9 December 1946) is an Indian politician of Italian descent. A member of the Nehru–Gandhi family, she is a former president of the Indian National Congress. Having taken over as the party leader in 1998, seven years after her husband's assassination, she remained in office for a record nineteen years, a period that was characterised by the party's renewed adherence to the centre-left position on the Indian political spectrum.
Born in a small village near Vicenza, Italy, Gandhi was raised in a Roman Catholic Christian family. After completing her primary education at local schools, she moved to Cambridge for higher education and married Rajiv Gandhi in 1968. She later took up Indian citizenship and began living with her mother-in-law, the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, at the latter's New Delhi residence. Sonia Gandhi, however, continued to stay away from the public sphere, even during the years of her husband's premiership.
Following her husband's assassination, Gandhi was invited by Congress leaders to take over the government, but she refused and stayed away from politics. She finally agreed to join politics in 1997 after constant prodding from the party; the following year, she was nominated for party president, and elected over Jitendra Prasada.Under her leadership, the Congress went on form the government post the 2004 elections in coalition with other centre-left political parties. Gandhi has since been credited for being instrumental in formulating the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which was re-elected to power in 2009. Gandhi declined the premiership following the 2004 victory; she instead led the ruling alliance and the National Advisory Council.
Gandhi's active participation in politics began to reduce in latter half of the second term of the UPA government. Although she is the fifth foreign-born person to be leader of the Congress Party, she is the first since independence in 1947.Over the course of her career, Gandhi presided over the advisory councils credited for the formation and subsequent implementation of such rights-based development and welfare schemes as the Right to information, Food security bill, and MNREGA, as she drew criticism related to the Bofors scandal and the National Herald Case. Her foreign birth has also been a subject of much debate and controversy.Although she never held any public office in the government of India, Gandhi has been widely described as one of the most powerful politicians in the country, and is often listed among the most powerful women in the world.
Sonia Maino was born on December 9, 1946 to Stefano and Paola Maino in Lusiana, a historically Cimbrian-speaking village 30 km from Vicenza in Veneto, Italy.Sonia spent her adolescence in Orbassano, a town near Turin, and was raised in a traditional Roman Catholic Christian family. She attained primary education attending the local Catholic schools; Sister Maria, one of her early teachers described her as "a diligent little girl, [who] studied as much as was necessary".Stefano, who was a building mason established a small construction business in Orbassano.He had fought against the Soviet military alongside Hitler's Wehrmacht on the eastern front in World War II, was a loyal supporter of Benito Mussolini and Italy's National Fascist Party. The family house had leather bound books on writings and speeches of Mussolini.Stefano had named Sonia and her elder sister Nadia in the memory of the Italian participation in the Eastern Front.He died in 1983.Gandhi has two sisters who still reside in Orbassano along with their mother.
Gandhi completed her schooling at the age of 13; her final report card read: "intelligent, diligent, committed [...] would succeed well at the high school for teachers". She aspired to become a flight attendant.In 1964, she went to study English at the Bell Educational Trust's language school in the city of Cambridge. The following year, she met Rajiv Gandhi at the Varsity Restaurant, where she was working as a part-time waitress, while he was enrolled for an engineering degree in the Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.In this context, the Times, London reported, "Mrs Gandhi was an 18-year-old student at a small language college in Cambridge in 1965, [...] when she met a handsome young engineering student".The couple married in 1968, in a Hindu ceremony, following which she moved into the house of her mother-in-law and then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.
The couple had two children, Rahul Gandhi (born 1970) and Priyanka Vadra (born 1972). Despite belonging to the influential Nehru family, Sonia and Rajiv avoided all involvement in politics. Rajiv worked as an airline pilot while Sonia took care of her family. She spent considerable amount of time with her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi; she recalled her experience in a 1985 interview with the Hindi-language magazine Dharmyug, "She [Indira] showered me with all her affection and love".Soon after the latter's ousting from office in 1977 in the aftermath of the Indian Emergency, the Rajiv family contemplated to move abroad for a short time.When Rajiv entered politics in 1982 after the death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash on 23 June 1980, Sonia continued to focus on her family and avoided all contact with the public.
Sonia Gandhi's involvement with Indian public life began after the assassination of her mother-in-law and her husband's election as prime minister. As the prime minister's wife she acted as his official hostess and also accompanied him on a number of state visits.
In 1984, she actively campaigned against her husband's sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi who was running against Rajiv in Amethi. At the end of Rajiv Gandhi's five years in office, the Bofors scandal broke out. Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman believed to be involved, was said to be a friend of Sonia Gandhi, having access to the Prime Minister's official residence.The BJP has alleged that she appeared on the voters' list in New Delhi prior to obtaining Indian citizenship in April 1983, in contravention of Indian law.
Former senior Congress leader and former President of India Pranab Mukherjee said that she surrendered her Italian passport to the Italian Embassy on 27 April 1983. Italian nationality law did not permit dual nationality until 1992. So, by acquiring Indian citizenship in 1983, she would automatically have lost Italian citizenship.
After Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 and Sonia Gandhi refused to become Prime Minister, the party settled on the choice of P. V. Narasimha Rao who became leader and subsequently Prime Minister. Over the next few years, however, the Congress fortunes continued to dwindle and it lost the 1996 elections. Several senior leaders such as Madhavrao Sindhia, Rajesh Pilot, Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Arjun Singh, Mamata Banerjee, G. K. Moopanar, P. Chidambaram and Jayanthi Natarajan were in open revolt against incumbent President Sitaram Kesri and many of whom quit the party, splitting the Congress into many factions.
In an effort to revive the party's sagging fortunes, she joined the Congress Party as a primary member in the Calcutta Plenary Session in 1997 and became party leader in 1998.
In May 1999, three senior leaders of the party (Sharad Pawar, P. A. Sangma, and Tariq Anwar) challenged her right to try to become India's Prime Minister because of her foreign origins. In response, she offered to resign as party leader, resulting in an outpouring of support and the expulsion from the party of the three rebels who went on to form the Nationalist Congress Party.
Within 62 days of joining as a primary member, she was offered the party President post which she accepted.
She contested Lok Sabha elections from Bellary, Karnataka and Amethi, Uttar Pradesh in 1999. She won both seats but chose to represent Amethi.In Bellary, she had defeated veteran BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj.
She was elected the Leader of the Opposition of the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999.
When the BJP-led NDA formed a government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, she took the office of the Leader of Opposition. As Leader of Opposition, she called a no-confidence motion against the NDA government led by Vajpayee in 2003.
In the 2004 general elections, Gandhi launched a nationwide campaign, criss-crossing the country on the Aam Aadmi (ordinary man) slogan in contrast to the 'India Shining' slogan of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance. She countered the BJP asking "Who is India Shining for?". In the election, she was re-elected by a 200,000-vote margin over nearest rival, in the Rae Bareli.Following the unexpected defeat of the NDA, she was widely expected to be the next Prime Minister of India. On 16 May, she was unanimously chosen to lead a 15-party coalition government with the support of the left, which was subsequently named the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The defeated NDA protested once again her 'foreign origin' and senior NDA leader Sushma Swaraj threatened to shave her head and "sleep on the ground", among other things, should Sonia become prime minister.
The NDA claimed that there were legal reasons that barred her from the Prime Minister's post.
They pointed, in particular, to Section 5 of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955, which they claimed implied 'reciprocity'. This was contested by others and eventually the suits were dismissed by the Supreme Court of India.
A few days after the election, Gandhi recommended Manmohan Singh as her choice as prime minister, that the party leaders accepted. Her supporters compared it to the old Indian tradition of renunciation,while her opponents attacked it as a political stunt.
Sonia is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, elder son of Indira Gandhi. Sonia has two children, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.
In August 2011, she underwent successful surgery for cervical cancer in the United States at Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York.She returned to India on 9 September after her treatment. Speaking on 18 July 2012, about her son taking a larger role in the party, she said that it is for Rahul to decide.
Sonia Gandhi was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by the Guardian in March 2013. She follows the style quote "Simple is Stylish" and looks no further than mother-in-law Indira Gandhi's "innate sense of fashion".
According to an affidavit filed during the Indian general election, 2014, Sonia had declared assets worth ₹ 92.8 million – ₹ 28.1 million in movable and ₹ 64.7 million in immovable properties. This is an almost six-fold increase since her declaration in the last election.