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Second UPA win, a crowning glory for Sonia's ascendancy

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Sonia Gandhi, an initially reluctant politician, is now the toast of the Congress leading the UPA which is set to return to power in a crowning glory for her ascendancy in the party.      

Often attacked for her foreign origin, the shy and reticent 62-year-old Italian born politician 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.     

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

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

The campaign for the 15th Lok Sabha elections saw the naturally shy Sonia take on leaders of rival BJP with aplomb blunting their venomous attacks on the party and Manmohan Singh     

Sonia is seen 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--a proof how much Congress still depends on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

 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 area--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 than as his widow, nearly two decades back.       

As she paved her steps slowly into the highly influenced corridors of the Indian politics, Sonia emerged as Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance 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 100 people.     

Born on December nine, 1946 in a middle class family in Italy she went 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 came to a chance meeting with Rajiv Gandhi, the elder son of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1983, she acquired the Indian citizenship.     

From early days she used to avoid the 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.

 As the Prime Minister's wife, Sonia acted as his official hostess and also accompanied him on a number of state visits. At times she was also involved and perceived 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 against Rajiv Gandhi in the consituency 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 her 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.     

She officially took charge of the 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 Congress President.       

Eventually, in 1998, she agreed to become more involved but her initial efforts were overshadowed by Congress's humiliating defeat by the BJP in the 1999 election.      

During her tenure as the Leader of the Opposition inspite of foreigner allegations she was firm in her responsibility and led the party to a thumping victory in the succeeding Parliament or the Lok Sabha Election. 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 Advisor 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 at Rae Bareli in May 2006 by a margin of over four lakh votes and has never looked back.

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First Published: Sat, May 16 2009. 14:05 IST