President Sonia Gandhi of The Congress Party

Jul/12/2022 / by Swarnendu Biswas
Sonia Gandhi
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Leader with Uncommon Vision

Sonia Gandhi is the President of the Indian National Congress party, which in common parlance is referred to as Congress. Founded in 1885 by Allan Octavian Hume, the party and its many leaders were instrumental in spearheading the first modern nationalist movement in India against the British empire. Congress also played a crucial role in post-independence India; it head the Indian Union Government for more than 54 years of India’s 75 post-independence years and greatly contributed towards building the socio-economic foundation of post-modern India.

Longest Serving President

While talking about Sonia Gandhi it must be mentioned that she is the longest serving President of the Indian National Congress, also known as the ‘Grand Old Party,’ in its 137-year-old history. As the President of Indian National Congress Sonia Gandhi had her first tenure during 14th March 1998-16th December 2017.

She was succeeded by her son, a Member of Parliament and a prominent Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi in late 2017 but when Rahul took the responsibility for Congress’s second successive poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections and resigned from the post of President of the party, the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution asking Sonia Gandhi to lead the party as interim President until a consensus candidate could be chosen. Since 10th August 2019, Sonia Gandhi is again leading INC, which is one of the two major national political parties of India, the other being Bhartiya Janata Party.

However, Sonia Gandhi, who can be easily counted among the greatest world leaders during the last five decades, initially had no ambition to enter the murky world of politics.

Nothing Political

Born as Sonia Maino on 9th December 1946, in the Italian village of Lusiana, located 35 km from the Vicenza city in Italy, she was the second oldest of the three daughters of her parents – Stefano and Paola. The age of Sonia Gandhi is 75 years. Sonia did spend her adolescence in the town of Orbassano, located near Turin city of Italy.

Raised in a Roman Catholic family, she met her future husband Rajiv Gandhi (the son of the former PM of India, Indira Gandhi, and Feroze Gandhi; the grandson of the first PM of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajiv was the PM of India during 1984-1989) while studying in Bell Educational Trust‘s language school in the city of Cambridge, where she was doing an English language course.

 Love blossomed between them and they married on 25th February 1968. Sonia settled in Delhi, India and started living with her husband and mother-in-law. Indira Gandhi, who was then the PM of India. The couple have a son, Rahul and a daughter, Priyanka.

Both Sonia and Rajiv (who was a commercial pilot before entering politics) remained away from politics but after the tragic death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in an accidental plane crash in 1980 (who was very much active in politics), Rajiv reluctantly entered politics at the urging of Indira. Riding on massive sympathy wave, he was elected as the PM of India in 1984, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 31st October 1984.

No to Politics

It was then that the involvement in public life began for Sonia Gandhi, when she was already 38 years old. As PM’s wife, she accompanied Rajiv on a number of state visits and also acted as his official hostess.

During the end of Rajiv’s tenure, Bofors Scandal surfaced. Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman who was believed to be involved in the arms deal corruption, was said to be a friend of Sonia Gandhi, with access to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s official residence. However, such unproven rumors failed to make an enduring dent in her image.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the terrorists in 1991, she was invited by the Congress Party to succeed him as the President of Congress and also as their Prime Ministerial candidate, but she refused.

Congress had to then opt for senior leader PV Narasimha Rao, who became the 9th Prime Minister of India. Congress had won the largest number of seats in the 1991general  elections, and thus  PV Narasimha Rao got the opportunity to head the minority government as Prime Minister, a much-coveted post which Sonia rejected.

The political stature of Congress began to sharply decline since 1996 and by 1998 Congress was perhaps at its lowest ebb with several senior leaders of the party in open revolt against the then Congress President, Sitaram Kesri. Many leaders had already quitted the Congress party.

Reviving Congress

In 1997, Sonia Gandhi actively joined politics to revive Congress’s fast dwindling fortunes. She became a primary member of the Congress party in 1997 and without much effort she became the next President of Congress in 1998(in fact, she was offered the post within 62 days of becoming the primary member of the party). The revival of the ‘grand old party’ began under her visionary leadership…

Sonia Gandhi contested the 1999 Lok Sabha elections from Amethi in UP and Bellary in Karnataka and won both the seats by huge margin over her nearest rival. She chose to represent Amethi and was elected as the Leader of the Opposition in the 13th Lok Sabha. As a leader of the opposition, she called a no-confidence motion against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government in 2003, but the motion failed.

Her glorious innings in Indian politics began when she led the Congress to the largest number of seats (145) in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

Leading from the Front

For the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Sonia Gandhi traversed the length and breadth of the country in her nationwide campaign. HerAam Aadmi (ordinary man) plank dented the ‘India Shining’ plank of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance, and she effectively trounced their blatant propaganda again and again with her sagacity, wisdom and razor-sharp logic. She herself won Rae Bareli seat in UP with a 200,000-vote margin over her nearest rival.

Sonia Gandhi became the clear choice to lead a 15-party coalition government with the support of the left, which was named as United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Sonia became the Chairperson of UPA in 2004, which she still is in 2022. She was also the natural choice to become the next PM of India.

However, NDA created a furore regarding her foreign origin. Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj threatened to shave her head and sleep on the ground should she become the PM.

But the wise lady didn’t give her opposition undue political mileage and gracefully declined to become the PM. She chose the former Finance Minister and architect of India’s liberalization, Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, which UPA accepted. The renunciation of the post of the PM by Sonia Gandhi stands unparalleled in modern Indian political history and it should be featured prominently in any authoritative biography of Sonia Gandhi.

However, it is common knowledge that she played key role in governance in both the tenures of UPA –from 2004 to 2009 and 2009 to 2014.

Empowering the Common People

UPA, under the dynamic and futuristic leadership of Sonia Gandhi, also set up the National Advisory Council in June 2004 to advise the PM on key national issues of significance.

 NAC, which was chaired by Sonia Gandhi and comprised eminent economists, politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists and activists among others, was instrumental in drafting some immensely significant bills, many of which snowballed into landmark legislations that created a strong edifice for a truly welfare society and welfare economics in India; a foundation which has been considerably weakened by the present-day BJP-led NDA government in India.

Landmark Developments

Some of the landmark legislations of post-modern India, which were the brainchild of NAC during the two successive tenures of UPA are the Right to Information Act (2005), Right to Education Act (2010), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, National Food Security Act (2013) among others.

These legislations together empowered the common people of India and uplifted their conditions like never before, and laid the foundations of a true welfare state.

“The mandate of NAC to confine itself to social sector promises and initiatives was a significant, deliberate decision. This collaborative exercise with civil society organisations and government to help develop policies yielded very useful results. The contributions from social activists, rooted in contemporary realities, and robust consultations with communities, lent rigour to the formulations,” stated the noted activist Aruna Roy, who was part of the National Advisory Council and is the chief architect behind the RTI Act.

Aruna gives Sonia Gandhi a central role in getting two main rights-based legislations passed in 2005 – the RTI and the MGNREGA. Aruna describes the passing of these two laws “as historic events in India’s social sector legislation.”

Sonia Gandhi had a fundamental role in establishing this path-breaking legislative paradigm that arose from participatory democratic governance at its best,” Aruna observed.

Under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress-led UPA did win a significant majority in the 2009 general elections and Manmohan Singh was again chosen as the PM. Congress itself won 206 seats as compared to BJP’s 116. Sonia Gandhi was elected for the third term as a Member of Parliament. The ten years of Sonia-led UPA’s governance during 2004-2014 can be easily described as the best period of the history of post-independent India in socio-economic terms. During the second UPA term, Sonia also underwent a successful surgery against cervical cancer in the US, in 2011.

Voicing Opposition

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, though she continued her impressive winning streak from Rae Bareli in UP but Congress and the UPA-led Congress alliance suffered a huge electoral debacle. Congress was reduced to 44 seats in Lok Sabha after the 2014 general elections in India.

In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 also Congress’s electoral fortunes didn’t fare much better before the belligerent propaganda and sharp polarisation politics of BJP Many partisan media houses also played active roles in creating mass appeal for BJP’s majoritarian politics.

While in opposition since eight years, she has been leading UPA towards playing a constructive role in creating awareness among the public about the incumbent NDA government’s flawed anti-people policies.

In 2013, Sonia Gandhi was ranked by Forbes Magazineas the 21st among world’s most powerful people and the 3rd most influential women leader in the world. In 2010, she was ranked as the ninth most powerful person on the planet by the same magazine.

According to https://www.celebritynetworth.com/, net worth of Sonia Gandhi is 3 million USD, though there is no authentic source in public domain about her exact net worth.

FAQs

What is Sonia Gandhi’s earlier name?

Her earlier name before marriage was Sonia Maino.

When did Sonia Gandhi join politics?

In 1997, Sonia Gandhi actively joined politics when she became a primary member of the Congress party.

What is Sonia Gandhi’s educational qualification?

She is an extremely erudite lady whose knowledge and wisdom couldn’t be gauged by mere degrees. She got an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from the University of Madras in 2008 and also an Honorary Doctorate from the Brussels University in 2006. She has also written two books titled Rajiv and Rajiv’s World and has edited two volumes of letters exchanged between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi between 1922 and 1964. These books are named ‘Freedom’s Daughter’ and ‘Two Alone, Two Together.’