Sonia Gandhi was born as Edvige Antonia Albina Maino on 9 December 1946 Orbassano, Piemonte, Italy, is an Italian-born Indian politician. She is currently the President of the Indian National Congress Party, Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha and the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. She is the longest serving president of the Congress party.
She was born to Stefano and Paola Maino in contrada Màini (“Maini street”) in Lusiana, a little village 30 km from Vicenza in the region of Veneto, Italy. She spent her adolescence in Orbassano, a town near Turin, being raised in a traditional Roman Catholic family and attending a Catholic school. Her father, a building contractor, died in 1983. Her mother and two sisters still live around Orbassano.
In 1964, she went to study English at the Bell Educational Trust’s language school in the city of Cambridge. She met Rajiv Gandhi, who was enrolled in Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in 1965 at a Greek restaurant while working there, as a waitress to make ends meet. Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi married in 1968, following which she moved into the house of her mother-in-law and then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.
The couple had two children, Rahul Gandhi (born 1970) and Priyanka Gandhi (born 1972). Despite belonging to the influential Nehru family, Sonia and Rajiv avoided all involvement in politics. Rajiv worked as an airline pilot while Sonia took care of her family. When Indira was ousted from office in 1977 in the aftermath of the Indian Emergency, the Rajiv family moved abroad for a short time. When Rajiv entered politics in 1982 after the death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash on 23 June 1980, Sonia continued to focus on her family and avoided all contact with the public.
Gandhi was named the third most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine in the year 2004 and was ranked 6th in 2007. In 2010, Gandhi ranked as the ninth most powerful person on the planet by Forbes Magazine. She was also named among the Time 100 most influential people in the world for the years 2007 and 2008. The British magazine New Statesman listed Sonia Gandhi at number 29th in their annual survey of “The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures” in the year 2010.
Sonia Gandhi’s involvement with Indian public life began after the assassination of her mother-in-law and her husband’s election as Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister’s wife she acted as his official hostess and also accompanied him on a number of state visits. In 1984, she actively campaigned against her husband’s sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi who was running against Rajiv in Amethi. At the end of Rajiv Gandhi’s five years in office, the Bofors Scandal broke out. Ottavio Quattrocchi an Italian business man believed to be involved, was said to be a friend of Sonia Gandhi, having access to the Prime Minister’s official residence.
After the assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi and her refusal of becoming Prime Minister, the party settled on the choice of P. V. Narasimha Rao who became leader and subsequently Prime Minister. Over the next few years, however, the Congress fortunes continued to dwindle and it lost the 1996 elections. Several senior leaders such as Madhavrao Sindhia, Rajesh Pilot, Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Arjun Singh, Mamata Banerjee, G. K. Moopanar, P. Chidambaram, Jayanthi Natarajan were in open revolt against the incumbent President Sitaram Kesri and quit the party, splitting the Congress into many factions.
In an effort to revive the party’s sagging fortunes, she joined the Congress Party as a primary member in the Calcutta Plenary Session in 1997 and became party leader in 1998.
Within 62 days of joining of a primary member, she was offered the party President post which she accepted. She contested Lok Sabha elections from Bellary, Karnataka and Amethi, Uttar Pradesh in 1999. In Bellary she defeated veteran BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj. In 2004 and 2009, she was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.
Sonia is the widow of the late Rajiv Gandhi, elder son of Indira Gandhi. Her son, Rahul Gandhi, was elected to Parliament from the Amethi constituency (UP) in 2004. Her daughter Priyanka Gandhi has not stood for office, though she has worked as a Congress campaign manager. There has been considerable media speculation about their future in the Congress.