Sonia Gandhi leader of the Congress Party of India is an Italian-born Indian politician, the President of the Indian National Congress and the widow of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. She was the Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha, until she resigned on the 23rd of March 2006. She was named the third most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine in the year 2004 and currently ranks 13th. She was returned to Parliament by a margin of over 400,000 votes in the recently held by-election.
Born December 9, 1946, as Edvige Antonia Albina Maino, in a little village in Italy, she was raised in a Roman Catholic family attending a Catholic school. In 1964, she went to study English at The Bell Educational Trust's language school in the city of Cambridge where she met Rajiv Gandhi. They were married in 1968, after which she moved into the house of her mother-in-law and then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. It was not until 1983 that she acquired Indian citizenship. The couple had two children, Rahul and Priyanka.
Despite the family's heavy involvement in politics, Sonia and Rajiv avoided all involvement - Rajiv worked as an airline pilot, and Sonia took care of her family. When Indira was ousted from office in 1977 and when Rajiv entered politics in 1982, Sonia continued to focus on her family and avoided all contact with publicity. Following her husband's assassination on May 21, 1991, there were calls for her to enter politics by members of the Congress Party, a call she refused until 1998. She officially took charge of the Congress party as its president in 1998 and was elected to parliament in the elections held in 1999 where she wass elected the Leader of the Opposition.
In the 2004 general elections, Sonia launched a nationwide campaign. After her party's unexpected victory, she was tipped to be the next Prime Minister of India. On May 16, she was unanimously chosen to lead a 15-party coalition government. Amidst a storm of controversy raised over her 'foreign origin,’ and her failure to take Indian citizenship for 15 years after her wedding, and her lack of fluency in Hindi or any Indian language despite her claim that she had "become an Indian in her heart the day she became Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law," Sonya Gandhi declined the leadership of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the parliament. That position would have indicated that she was the party's nominee for Prime Minister.
On May 18, a day before her scheduled inauguration, she recommended noted economist Dr. Manmohan Singh for the Prime Minister's post. Sonia retained the post of the Leader of the Majority and the Chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party. This arrangement enabled her to keep political control of the party and to deal with the political fire fights in the giant coalition government while leaving the management of the country in the hands of Manmohan Singh.
Sonia Gandhi's trademark is her modest plain white sari that she wears, similar to other Hindu widows. But she is anything but plain. This Italian/Indian woman, Sonia Gandhi, is now one of India and the world’s most powerful women.