Sonia Gandhi (born December 9, 1946), is an Indian politician and the president of the Indian National Congress (Congress Party). Also, she is currently the chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha. She is the Italian-born widow of Rajiv Gandhi.
Born Sonia Maino in Orbassano (8 km from Turin, Italy), she met Rajiv Gandhi, who later became Prime Minister of India, while he was a student at Cambridge University and she a bar-maid in England. They were married in 1968, after which she took up residence in India. She adopted Indian citizenship in 1983, fifteen years after her marriage to Rajiv, when, it is speculated, she realized that her husband's fortunes as prime minister might be affected by her Italian citizenship. The couple had two children, Rahul Gandhi (born 1970) and Priyanka Gandhi (born 1971).
Gandhi did not enter politics until after her husband's assassination on May 21, 1991. Following his death she was pressured by the Congress Party to enter politics and to continue the party's dynastic tradition of being led by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
In 1998 she formally entered politics, assuming the helm of the Congress Party and declaring herself a candidate for Prime Minister. Largely through her family name, she was able to draw large crowds and nearly single-handedly revitalized the party. However, she remained a somewhat enigmatic figure, and her opposition (chiefly the Bharatiya Janata Party) constantly played off the fact that she was foreign-born and was not a fluent Hindi speaker until she entered politics, frequently asserting that she had no qualifications other than her name.
She rose to become Leader of the Opposition in the 13th Lok Sabha, and in the 2004 election launched an aggressive campaign to unseat the ruling Hindu-Nationalists. She had been tipped to be the next Prime Minister of India following her party's surprise victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. On May 16 she was unanimously voted to lead a 19-party coalition government.
However, on May 18, a day before her scheduled inauguration, she addressed a meeting of Congress lawmakers and declined to become Prime Minister. Amid indignant shouts from her supporters, she said "I request you to accept my decision and to recognize that I will not reverse it. ... It is my inner voice, my conscience." Lawmakers surrounded the podium and begged her to reconsider. Later, hundreds massed outside Gandhi's home in New Delhi. Feelings ran so high that a former provincial Congress legislator held a revolver to his head, threatening to commit suicide, before being disarmed ten minutes later. Distraught Congress workers smashed window panes at the party office to express their frustration. Congress leaders also resigned en masse in another attempt to get her to reconsider. Congress sources said Gandhi was tired of the Hindu nationalist campaign against her foreign origins. Some also said that her children asked her to decline, fearful of the assassination threat.
Manmohan Singh was appointed Prime Minister instead, with her support.