Posted on November 24, 2010 by Sumangal Vinjamuri
Sonia Gandhi is undoubtedly the most powerful woman in India and one of the 100 most influential women in the world. She also happens to be the most powerful politician of India. Sonia chose not to become the Prime Minister of India in 2004; instead she nominated Dr Manmohan Singh to be elected as the first Sikh Prime Minister of Independent India. Sonia Gandhi became the first Roman Catholic to hold an absolute political power behind the throne! At that point A P J Abdul Kalam, a Muslim, was the President of predominantly Hindu India! Is this possible anywhere else in the democratic world? Can you imagine a US President, a Vice President and the Speaker of the House, all three minorities at the same time? Can anybody seriously think a minority could be elected to be the Prime Minister of United Kingdom? And these are supposed to be the bastions of liberal democracies!
Sonia Gandhi was born Sonia Maino on December 9, 1947, in the small village of Orbassano, just outside Turin, Italy. She was raised in a traditional Roman Catholic household and her parents, Stefano and Paolo, were working class people. In 1964, her father sent her to study English at the Bell Educational Trust’s language school in the city of Cambridge, England. Sonia met Rajiv Gandhi, the elder son of Indira Gandhi, in 1965 who was studying mechanical engineering at Cambridge University. Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi were married in 1968 in a simple ceremony in New Delhi, India. Following the wedding, Sonia and Rajiv moved in with Indira Gandhi, who by this time had become the Prime Minister of India. Indira Gandhi took a strong liking for Sonia and taught her to wear the sari, a traditional Indian dress. Sonia Gandhi even learned to speak fluent Hindi, the official language of India.
While Rajiv Gandhi pursued his passion for flying and became a commercial airline pilot with Indian Airlines, Sonia Gandhi served as hostess at state functions for her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. The political heir to Indira Gandhi was Rajiv’s younger brother, Sanjay Gandhi. When Sonia was getting her political lessons from her mother-in-law, Rajiv Gandhi remained aloof from politics. Rajiv and Sonia lived in relative peace, raising their two children, Rahul and Priyanka. Providence intervened and Sanjay Gandhi was killed in a flying accident. Rajiv Gandhi was thrust into the family business of politics and became the Prime Minister of India when his mother, Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984 by two of her own bodyguards. Rajiv’s tenure as Prime Minister was turbulent to say the least. He was also killed on May 21, 1991 by a suicide bomber while campaigning in the state of Tamil Nadu.
There was tremendous pressure on Sonia Gandhi to accept the leadership of Congress Party but she vehemently refused. Over the next few years, the party fortunes declined and finally lost the 1996 elections. 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 the party leader in 1998. She contested Lok Sabha elections from Bellary, Karnataka and Amethi, Uttar Pradesh in 1999. She won both seats. In Bellary she defeated veteran BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj. In 2004, she was elected to the Lok Sabha from Rai Bareli, Uttar Pradesh.