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Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi Italy-born Indian politician

Italy-born Indian politician
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Italy-born Indian politician
A.K.A. Antonia Edvige Albina Maino
Is Politician
From Italy India
Type Politics
Gender female
Birth 9 December 1946, Lusiana, Province of Vicenza, Veneto, Italy
Age: 73 years
Politics Indian National Congress
Family
Spouse: Rajiv Gandhi
Children: Rahul GandhiPriyanka G.Vadra
The details
Biography

Sonia Gandhi ( pronunciation ; born Edvige Antonia Albina Màino 9 December 1946) is an Italian-born Indian politician, who has served as President of the Indian National Congress party since 1998. She is the widow of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi who belonged to the Nehru–Gandhi family.

Following her husband's assassination in 1991, she was invited by Congress leaders to take over the government but she refused and publicly stayed away from politics amidst constant prodding from the party. She finally agreed to join politics in 1997; in 1998, she was elected President of the Congress party.

She has served as the Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha since 2004. In September 2010, on being re-elected for the fourth time, she became the longest serving president in the 125-year history of the Congress party. Her foreign birth has been a subject of much debate and controversy.

Also controversial was her alleged friendship with Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused of being a middleman in the Bofors scandal. Although Sonia is the fifth foreign-born person to be leader of the Congress Party, she is the first since independence in 1947. In 2010 Gandhi was ranked as World's 9th most powerful person by Forbes.

Early life

Sonia Gandhi's birthplace, 31, Contrada Maini (Maini street), Lusiana, Italy (the house on the right)

She was born to Stefano and Paola Maino in Contrada Màini ("Maini quarter/district"), at Lusiana, a little village 30 km from Vicenza in Veneto, Italy, where families with the family name "Màino" have been living for many generations. She spent her adolescence in Orbassano, a town near Turin, being raised in a traditional Roman Catholic family and attending Catholic schools.

Her father, Stefano Maino, was a building mason, who owned a small construction business in Orbassano. Stefano fought against the Soviet military alongside Hitler's Wehrmacht on the eastern front in World War II, he called himself a loyal supporter of Benito Mussolini and Italy's National Fascist Party. He died in 1983. Her mother and two sisters still live around Orbassano.

In 1964, she went to study English at the Bell Educational Trust's language school in the city of Cambridge. In 1965 at a Greek restaurant (the Varsity Restaurant in Cambridge) she met Rajiv Gandhi, who was enrolled in 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, making ends meet by working as a waitress in the Varsity restaurant, when she met a handsome young engineering student". Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi 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.

When Indira Gandhi was ousted 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.

Political career

Wife of the prime minister

President Ronald Reagan, Sonia Gandhi, First Lady Nancy Reagan and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, during a state dinner for Prime Minister Gandhi. June 1985.

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 business man 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 current 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.

Congress President

Sonia Gandhi as Leader of Opposition, meeting with the President of Russia Vladimir Putin during latter's State visit to India in October 2000.

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.

Leader of the Opposition

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.

2004 elections and aftermath

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.

UPA Chairperson

Sonia Gandhi with 13th President of India Pranab Mukherjee on releasing the first day cover of INS Vikramaditya in 2013.

On 23 March 2006, Gandhi announced her resignation from the Lok Sabha and also as chairperson of the National Advisory Council under the office-of-profit controversy and the speculation that the government was planning to bring an ordinance to exempt the post of chairperson of National Advisory Council from the purview of office of profit. She was re-elected from her constituency Rae Bareli in May 2006 by a margin of over 400,000 votes.

As chairperson of the National Advisory Committee and the UPA, she played an important role in making the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act into law.

She addressed the United Nations on 2 October 2007, Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary which is observed as the international day of non-violence after a UN resolution passed on 15 July 2007.

Under her leadership, the Congress-led UPA won a decisive majority in the 2009 general elections with Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. The Congress itself won 206 Lok Sabha seats, which was then the highest total by any party since 1991. She was re-elected to a third term as a member of parliament representing Rae Bareli.

In 2013, Gandhi became the first person to serve as Congress President for 15 years consecutively. In the same year, Gandhi condemned the Supreme Court's judgement supporting Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and backed LGBT rights.

In the 2014 general election, she held her seat in Rae Bareli. However, the Indian National Congress and the Congress-led UPA electoral alliance suffered their worst result in a general election ever, winning only 44 and 59 seats respectively.

Personal life

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.

Honours and recognition

In 2013, Sonia Gandhi was overall ranked 21st and 3rd most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine.

In 2007, she had been named the third most powerful woman in the world by the same magazine and was ranked 6th in exclusive list in 2007.

In 2010, Gandhi ranked as the ninth most powerful person on the planet by Forbes magazine. She was ranked 12 in 2012 in forbes' powerful people list.

Sonia was also named among the Time 100 most influential people in the world for the years 2007 and 2008. New Statesman listed Sonia Gandhi at number 29 in their annual survey of "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures" in the year 2010.

Year Name Awarding organisation Ref.
2008 Honorary Doctorate (Literature) University of Madras
2006 Order of King Leopold Government of Belgium
2006 Honorary Doctorate Brussels University

Books featuring Sonia Gandhi

  • Sonia Gandhi – An Extraordinary Life, An Indian Destiny (2011), a biography written by Rani Singh.
  • Sonia Gandhi: Tryst with India by Nurul Islam Sarkar.
  • The Red Sari: A Dramatized Biography of Sonia Gandhi (El Sari Rojo) by Javier Moro
  • Sonia: A Biography by Rasheed Kidwai
  • The Accidental Prime Minister by Sanjaya Baru, 2014
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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