Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi will turn 75 today. Gandhi, the longest-serving President of the grand-old party, has seen several highs and lows. She was elected as the President in 1998. Gandhi has led the Congress for 20 years. She was back in the saddle in 2019 as Congress' interim chief after Rahul Gandhi resigned after the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls.
Gandhi was first elected as a Member of Parliament from the Amethi parliamentary constituency in 1999, following which she became Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. During the 2004 General Elections, she led the electoral campaign of her party, which secured the largest number of seats.
Marriage with Rajiv Gandhi:
She was born Sonia Maino in Italy. After completing her primary education at local schools, she moved to Cambridge for higher education. While studying in the United Kingdom, she met Rajiv Gandhi and later married him.
Rajiv went on to become the Prime Minister in 1981 after his mother, former Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, was assassinated. Rajiv Gandhi met a similar fate while campaigning for elections in 1991.
Entry into politics:
Sonia kept her distance from politics until 1997. Six years later after her husband's assassination, Sonia gave in to the demands and joined the Indian National Congress in 1997.
In the following year, she was elected as the party's President. She led the party to victory in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Gandhi has been credited for being instrumental in formulating the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). She was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Congress bastion of Rae Bareli in 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019.
There was a furore over her Italian origins when the Congress was set to form the government after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, as she was touted to be the Prime Minister as the head of the largest party in the coalition.
In 2004, in a decision that surprised everyone, Sonia chose to decline the post of Prime Minister. Instead, she nominated former finance minister Manmohan Singh for the same. Some of her supporters called it a sacrifice, others a political masterstroke. But political pundits agreed that even though she was not the Prime Minister, she was the most influential person in the country. She stepped down as the Congress president in December 2017, but returned to the post in 2019 after her son and MP, Rahul Gandhi, resigned.
Although she never held any public office in the government of India, she 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 by magazines like Time and Forbes.