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Sonia Gandhi (सोनिया गाँधी) (born December 9, 1946), is an Italian-born Indian politician and the president of the Indian National Congress (Congress Party). She is currently the chairwoman of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha and the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Born as Antonia Maino to Stefano and Paola Maino in Orbassano, a town 20 km from Turin, Italy, she spent her adolescence in Orbassano being raised in a conservative Roman Catholic family and attending a Catholic seminary. Her father, a building contractor, died in 1983, but her mother and two sisters still live around Orbassano. While learning English in Cambridge, England, she met Rajiv Gandhi, who later became Prime Minister of India. They were married in 1968, after which she took up residence in India. The name Sonia was given by her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi. The couple had two children, Rahul Gandhi (born 1970) and Priyanka Gandhi (born 1972). She adopted Indian citizenship in 1983 when, it is speculated, her lack of Indian citizenship became a political liability for her husband.
Following her husband's assassination on May 21, 1991, there were calls for her to enter politics by members of the Congress Party, mainly due to the presumption that being led by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family was an electoral asset for the party. After her refusal, the party settled on the choice of Narasimha Rao as leader and, subsequently, Prime Minister. She finally entered politics just before the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, assuming the helm of the Congress Party. 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 opponents (chiefly the Bharatiya Janata Party) constantly played up the fact of her foreign birth, her declining to take up Indian citizenship for 15 years after her marriage and her lack of fluency in Hindi.
She was elected the Leader of the Opposition of the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999, and in the 2004 election launched an aggressive campaign to unseat the ruling National Democratic Alliance. 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 which was subsequently named the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
A storm of controversy had emerged following her party's victory, as the possibility of a foreign-born Prime Minister caused many (especially amongst the BJP's supporters) to agitate against Gandhi. However, on May 18, a day before her scheduled inauguration, she declined the Prime Minister's post, citing personal reasons. Gandhi instead nominated Manmohan Singh for the Prime Minister's post; he was eventually accepted by the lawmakers, despite pleas by members of the Congress party for Gandhi to reverse her decision. Gandhi instead took office as the chairperson of the newly formed National Advisory Council with the status of a Cabinet Minister.
Gandhi has authored two books: 'Rajiv' and 'Rajiv’s World'. In addition, she has also edited 'Freedom’s Daughter' and 'Two Alone, Two Together' (two volumes of letters exchanged between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi from 1922 to 1964)
- S. R. ET AL. BAKSHI (1998) Sonia Gandhi, The President of AICC South Asia Books. ISBN 8170249880
- Rupa Chaterjee (1999) Sonia Gandhi: The Lady in Shadow Butala. ISBN 8187277025
- C. Rupa, Rupa Chaterjee (2000) Sonia Mystique South Asia Books. ISBN 8185870241
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