Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi
Chairperson of the National Advisory Council
In office
29 March 2010  25 May 2014
Preceded by Position reestablished
Succeeded by Position abolished
In office
4 June 2004  23 March 2006
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance
Assumed office
16 May 2004
Preceded by Position established
President of the Indian National Congress
Assumed office
14 March 1998
Preceded by Sitaram Kesri
Leader of the Opposition
In office
19 March 1998  22 May 2004
Preceded by Sharad Pawar
Succeeded by L. K. Advani
Member of Parliament
for Rae Bareli
Assumed office
17 May 2004
Preceded by Satish Sharma
Member of Parliament
for Amethi
In office
10 October 1999  17 May 2004
Preceded by Sanjay Singh
Succeeded by Rahul Gandhi
Personal details
Born Edvige Antonia Albina Màino
(1946-12-09) 9 December 1946
Lusiana, Veneto, Italy
Nationality Indian
Political party Indian National Congress
Spouse(s) Rajiv Gandhi (1969–1991; his death)
Relations Nehru–Gandhi family
Children Rahul
Residence 10 Janpath, New Delhi
Alma mater Bell Educational Trust
Religion Roman Catholicism[1][2][3]

Sonia Gandhi ( pronunciation ; born Edvige Antonia Albina Màino,[4][5][6] 9 December 1946) is an Italian-born Indian politician, who has served as President of the Indian National Congress party since 1998.[5] She is the widow of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi who belonged to the Nehru–Gandhi family. After 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.[7] She finally agreed to join politics in 1997; in 1998, she was elected President of the Congress party.[5]

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.[8] Her foreign birth has been a subject of much debate and controversy.[9][10] Also controversial was her alleged friendship with Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, accused of being a middleman in the Bofors scandal.[11] Although Sonia is the fifth foreign-born person to be leader of the Congress Party, she is the first since independence in 1947.[12]

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,[13][14] a little village 30 km from Vicenza in Veneto,[15] Italy, where families with the family name "Màino" have been living for many generations.[16][17][18] She spent her adolescence in Orbassano,[19] a town near Turin, being raised in a traditional Roman Catholic family and attending a Catholic school. Her father, Stefano Maino, was a building mason, who owned a small construction business in Orbassano.[20] 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.[20] He died in 1983.[21] Her mother and two sisters still live around Orbassano.[22]

In 1964, she went to study English at the Bell Educational Trust's language school in the city of Cambridge.[23] 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.[24] 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."[25] Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi married in 1968, in a Hindu ceremony[26] following which she moved into the house of her mother-in-law and then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33][34]

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.[35]

Congress President

With the then President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev during his State visit in December 2010.

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.[36]

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.[5][37]

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.[38]

Within 62 days of joining as a primary member, she was offered the party President post which she accepted.[39] She contested Lok Sabha elections from Bellary, Karnataka and Amethi, Uttar Pradesh in 1999. She won both seats but chose to represent Amethi.[40] In Bellary, she had defeated veteran BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj.[41]

Leader of the Opposition

She was elected the Leader of the Opposition of the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999.[42] 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.[43]

2004 elections and aftermath

Sonia Gandhi welcomes US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to her residence, 10 Janpath in New Delhi, India, 2009.

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.[44] 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.[9] The NDA also claimed that there were legal reasons that barred her from the Prime Minister's post.[45] They pointed, in particular, to Section 5 of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955, which they claimed implied 'reciprocity'. This was contested by others[34] and eventually the suits were dismissed by the Supreme Court of India.[46]

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,[47] while her opponents attacked it as a political stunt.[48]

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.[49] She was re-elected from her constituency Rae Bareli in May 2006 by a margin of over 400,000 votes.[50][51]

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.[52][53]

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.[54]

Under her leadership, the Congress-led UPA won a decisive majority in the 2009 general elections with Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister.[55] The Congress itself won 206 Lok Sabha seats, which was then the highest total by any party since 1991.[56] She was also re-elected to a third term as a member of parliament representing Rae Bareli.[57]

In 2013, Gandhi became the first person to serve as Congress President for 15 years consecutively.[58] In the same year, Gandhi condemned the Supreme Court's judgement supporting Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and backed LGBT rights.[59]

In the 2014 general election, she held her seat in Rae Bareli.[60] 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.[61][62][63]

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 a successful surgery for an unspecified ailment in the United States. It has been widely speculated in the media that the surgery took place at Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Newspapers reported that she returned[64] 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.[65]

Sonia was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by the Guardian in March 2013.[66] She follows the style quote "Simple is Stylish" and looks no further than mother-in-law Indira Gandhi's "innate sense of fashion".[67]

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.[68]

Honours and recognition

In 2013, Sonia Gandhi was overall ranked 21st and 3rd most powerful woman in Forbes powerful list.[69] Before that in 2007, Gandhi was named the third most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine[70] and was ranked 6th in exclusive list in 2007.[71] In 2010, Gandhi ranked as the ninth most powerful person on the planet by Forbes magazine.[72] Sonia was ranked 12 in 2012 in forbes' powerful people list.[73][74][75]

Sonia was also named among the Time 100 most influential people in the world for the years 2007[76] and 2008.[77] New Statesman listed Sonia Gandhi at number 29 in their annual survey of "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures" in the year 2010.[78]

Year Name Awarding organisation Ref.
2008 Honorary Doctorate (Literature) University of Madras [79]
2006 Order of King Leopold Government of Belgium [80]
2006 Honorary Doctorate Brussels University [80]

Books featuring Sonia Gandhi

See also


  1. "Profile: Sonia Gandhi". BBC News.
  2. "By stressing Hindu values Sonia Gandhi enhances personal acceptability and Congress appeal : NATION - India Today".
  3. N. I. Sarkar. Sonia Gandhi: Tryst with India.
  4. Sonia Gandhi Archived 29 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine.. Britannica. Retrieved on 9 December 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Sonia Gandhi Biography". Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  6. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Shankar Raghuraman (2007). Divided we stand: India in a time of coalitions. Los Angeles : SAGE Publications, 2007. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-7619-3663-3.
  7. "ASSASSINATION IN INDIA; Sonia Gandhi Declines Invitation To Assume Husband's Party Post". The New York Times. 24 May 1991. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  8. "Fourth time in a row, Sonia Gandhi is Congress chief". The Times of India. 4 September 2010. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  9. 1 2 Religioscope: India: politics of renunciation, traditional and modern – Analysis Archived 16 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 9 December 2011.
  10. Ramaseshan, Radhika (30 August 2002). "BJP sees Gujarat ammo in Sonia origins". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  11. Nelson, Dean (14 January 2011). "Sonia Gandhi under pressure over Bofors scandal relationship". The Telegraph. New Delhi, India. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  12. "On being foreign and being nationalist". Chennai, India: Frontline Magazine. 22 May – 4 June 1999. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  13. Pictures from the book-biography "The Red sari" by Javier Moro Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 9 December 2011. Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. "Edvige Antonia Albina Maino".
  15. Sonia Gandhi, dalla piccola Lusiana all'India ecco il romanzo di una donna speciale Il Giornale de Vicenza. 5 Oct 2009 Archived 14 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. Maini Archived 31 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Lusiana.
  17. Sonia Gandy Archived 4 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Il Giornale di Vicenza. 2004 (with picture of her native house)
  18. Lusiana: parish church, townhall square, landscape Archived 15 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 9 December 2011.
  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 2011-09-29.. Sonia Maino Gandhi from Lusiana to Orbassano, pages 22–27.
  20. 1 2 Meeting Mr Maino Archived 26 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  21. In Maino land Archived 17 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Archived 17 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 23 March 2007. Archived 17 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. Italy heralds 'first woman PM' Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. BBC. 14 May 2004. Retrieved 18 July 2007.
  23. "Sonia Gandhi Biography". 23 September 2011. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  24. Perry, Alex (17 May 2004). "The Sonia Shock". Time. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2009.
  25. From waitress to world leader, Rediff, 17 May 2004
  26. "News Features". Catholic Culture. 20 November 2001. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  27. "Profile: Sonia Gandhi". BBC News. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  28. BREAKING THE SILENCE Archived 22 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 20 July 2007.
  29. Ramachandran, Aarthi. Decoding Rahul Gandhi. p. 1973. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  30. "Citizen Sonia". Frontline. 5 June 1999. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  31. Rasheeda Bhagat. "Sonia Gandhi: Ordinary Italian to powerful Indian | Business Line". Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  32. Who is Quattrocchi? Archived 23 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 23 March 2007.
  33. "BJP accuses Sonia of flouting law". The Indian Express. 12 May 1999. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  34. 1 2 Venkatesan, V (June 1999). "Citizen Sonia". Frontline. 16 (12). Archived from the original on 22 April 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  35. "Citizenship: How to lose it?". Trentini Nel Mondo. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  36. "The Sitaram Kesri case: How dynasty trumped ethics | Latest News & Updates at". Daily News & Analysis. 10 July 2011. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  37. "Sonia Gandhi re-elected Congress president, unopposed". NDTV. 3 September 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  38. "India's Congress Party rallies for Sonia Gandhi". CNN. 17 May 1999. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  39. "Sonia Gandhi Biography – about, family and professional history, political journey and awards won". Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  40. "A Congress bastion since 1952". The Hindu. 28 February 2004. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  41. "General election 1999, Candidate wise result". Election Commission of India. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  42. "Detailed Profile – Smt. Sonia Gandhi – Members of Parliament (Lok Sabha) – Who's Who – Government: National Portal of India". Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  43. "LS to witness 26th no-confidence motion in its history". The Times of India. 17 August 2003. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  44. "Statistical Report on General Elections, 2004 to the 14th Lok Sabha" (PDF). ECI. p. 308. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  45. Pioneer News Service. "Whose inner voice?". CMYK Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. Archived from the original on 9 April 2007. Retrieved 20 July 2007.
  46. "Sonia is Indian, rules SC". The Times of India. 13 September 2001. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  47. "Indian press lauds Gandhi decision". BBC. 19 May 2004. Retrieved 6 February 2008.
  48. "Profile: Sonia Gandhi". BBC. 23 March 2006. Retrieved 6 July 2008.
  49. "'Hurt' Sonia quits as MP, chairperson of NAC". Retrieved 23 March 2006.
  50. "Rae Bareli Lok Sabha". Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  51. "Sonia strides to victory with record margin". Rediff. 11 May 2006.
  52. Employment Bill not a populist measure: Sonia Archived 7 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  53. After RTI success, it's right to work Archived 7 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
  54. "Sonia Gandhi raises disarmament issue at UN meet". The Times of India. 2 October 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2007.
  55. "India's new government sworn in". BBC News. 22 May 2009. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  56. "Hail to the chief: Sonia spurs Cong to new heights". Hindustan Times. 11 March 2013. Archived from the original on 25 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  57. "List of Winning candidates Final" (PDF). Election Commission of India. p. 8. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  58. "Sonia Gandhi completes 15 years as Congress president". Livemint. 13 March 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2014.
  59. "Disappointed over court ruling on gay rights: Sonia Gandhi". Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  60. "Sonia Gandhi wins by over 3.52 lakh votes". The Indian Express. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  61. "After its worst defeat ever in Lok Sabha elections, what can Congress do to recover?". Daily News & Analysis. 19 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  62. "The worst defeat: Where the Congress went wrong". IBN Live. 17 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  63. "Results". NDTV. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  64. Sonia returns after surgery. Indian Express (9 September 2011). Retrieved on 9 December 2011.
  65. "It's for Rahul to decide: Sonia". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 18 July 2012.
  66. Cartner-Morley, Jess; Mirren, Helen; Huffington, Arianna; Amos, Valerie (28 March 2013). "The 50 best-dressed over 50s". The Guardian. London.
  67. "Simple is stylish: Sonia". telegraph India. 8 November 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
  68. "Sonia Gandhi files papers, shows six-fold hike in assets". The Times of India.
  69. "Sonia Gandhi third most powerful woman in Forbes list". External link in |work= (help)
  70. "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women". Forbes. 20 August 2004. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  71. "Sonia Gandhi in Forbes' list for 2007". Forbes. 30 August 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  72. In Maino land Archived 2 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  73. "Sonia Gandhi world's third most powerful woman: Forbes". 30 October 2013.
  74. Saritha Rai. "Sonia Gandhi". Forbes.
  75. "These are the world's most powerful people, Photo Gallery".
  76. Sonia Gandhi among Time's 100 for 2007 Archived 3 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 14 May 2007
  77. Sonia Gandhi among Time's 100 for 2008 Archived 22 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 1 May 2008.
  78. "Sonia Gandhi – 50 People Who Matter 2010". New Statesman. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  79. M. R. Venkatesh (6 September 2008). "Madras University honours Manmohan, Sonia". Chennai: Hindustan Times. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  80. 1 2 "Belgium honours Sonia Gandhi". Daily News and Analysis. India. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  81. "Arbiter at the Gates | Sheela Reddy". Retrieved 11 March 2014.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sonia Gandhi.
Party political offices
New office Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance
Lok Sabha
Preceded by
Sanjay Singh
Member of Parliament
for Amethi

Succeeded by
Rahul Gandhi
Preceded by
Satish Sharma
Member of Parliament
for Rae Bareli

Political offices
Preceded by
Sharad Pawar
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Lal Krishna Advani
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