Born On: 9th December, 1946
Born In: Lusiana in Veneto, Italy
Career: Politician, President of Indian National Congress
Nationality: Italian born Indian
Sonia Gandhi belongs to one of the richest and highly influential families in India: The Nehru's. Presently, she serves as the President of the Indian National Congress and is the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). This Italian born woman has created history in Indian politics; she is the third woman of foreign origin to become the Leader of the Congress party, after Annie Beasant and Nelli Sengupta. Also, Sonia Gandhi is the fifth person from the Nehru family to hold the leadership of a party. The other four famous personalities of this dynasty are Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi. Despite being from an affluent and wealthy family, Sonia had faced several hardships in her political career owing to her foreign descent. But today, she is considered among the most powerful women in the world. Read below to know more about her personal life and success story.
Sonia Gandhi was born as Sonia Maino on 9th December 1946 in Lusiana, Italy to Stefano and Paola Maino. She was raised in Orbassano, a small town near Turin along with her two sisters She completed her basic education in the same town. In 1964, Sonia attended the Bell Educational Trust School in Cambridge to obtain a graduation in English. Rajiv Gandhi, the grandson of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru was also in England to study Mechanical Engineering from Trinity College. Sonia and Rajiv met in 1965 at a Greek restaurant, where she was working as a waitress. In 1968, they got married and moved to India.
Sonia Gandhi accepted the Indian culture and tradition; she bore two children, namely Rahul and Priyanka. At this time, her husband was forced to enter in politics after the death of his younger brother, Sanjay Gandhi. When Rajiv Gandhi shifted to political affairs, Sonia focused all her attention on the family and avoided public contact.
Being the wife of the Prime Minister of India, Sonia Gandhi acted as the official hostess of her husband and even accompanied him on official tours. She campaigned against Maneka Gandhi who stood for elections against Rajiv in Amethi in 1984. It was due to this election that Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minster of India.
After the successful completion of the Rajiv Gandhi Government, the Bofors Scandal broke out. Here, the main accused was Ottavio Quattrocchi who an Italian businessman and a friend of Sonia Gandhi. This news was thrown out of proportion, scarring her reputation.
Sonia Gandhi's name appeared on a leading newspaper in the list of voters for Delhi in 1980. This was another controversy as she has not become an Indian citizen yet. However, she surrendered her Italian passport in 1983 and acquired citizenship of India.
Indian National Congress President
After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi refused to enter the world of politics. During this time, the Congress chose P.V. Narasimha Rao as the leader and Prime Minister of the country. In 1996, the Congress party was unsuccessful in the elections. Owing to this incident, the senior leaders of the party blamed the then Congress President, Sitaram Kesari for his poor leadership.
There was turmoil amongst members of the party, leading to a possibility of its split. In an effort to save the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi joined as a member in 1997. Eventually, she became the leader in 1998.
Again, the question of her foreign ethnicity raised questions with senior politicians. But, she seemed unaffected. In 1999, for the first time she contested for the Lok Sabha elections and won against BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj. She was re-elected into the Lok Sabha in 2004 and 2009.
Consequences of 2004 Elections
In the 2004 elections, Sonia Gandhi became the chief campaigner for the Congress. She worked during the general elections when Congress defeated BJP, by a large margin. With the fall of the BJP government, Sonia Gandhi was considered as the next Prime Minister. On 16th May, 2004, she was chosen to lead a coalition government called United Progressive Alliance (UPA). However considering her foreign origin, NDA completely opposed her leadership. She withdrew and announced Manmohan Singh to be the Prime Minster of India.
Currently, she heads the Youth Congress and serves as the General Secretary of the ruling party. Sonia's daughter, Priyanka has restricted her political role and is only in charge of her mother's election campaigns and constituency.
Awards and Accolades
In 2004, she was named as the third most powerful woman in the world by 'Forbes Magazine'. Two years later, Sonia Gandhi received a doctorate from the Brussels University and shortly after she was conferred with an honorary doctorate from the University of Madras (2008). In 2010, the British magazine, 'New Statesmen' listed her at the 29th position for 'The World's 50 Most Influential Figures 2010'.
1946: Sonia Gandhi was born in Italy.
1964: She attended Bell Education Trust in Cambridge to study English.
1968: Rajiv Gandhi and she were married and they travelled back to India from England.
1970-1972: Birth of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.
1983: She acquired Indian citizenship.
1997: Sonia joined the Congress party as a primary member.
1999: She won her first Lok Sabha elections.
1999: Sonia Gandhi was elected as Leader of the Opposition party.
2004: Became Chairperson of UPA and was awarded the third most powerful women in the world according to Forbes Magazine.
2006: She received a doctorate from the Brussels University.
2008: Honorary doctorate from the University of Madras.
2010: Ranked 29th on the World's 50 Most Influential Figures by the New Statesman.