"The Congress is unique. Our uniqueness arises from several basic features of the Congress s history, its character, its ideology and the legacy of its leadership. I am convinced that the time is ripe for a massive renaissance of our political culture so that we build that society which combines compassion with competence, equity with excellence."
Sonia Gandhi is the President of Indian National Congress and the chair person of the UPA. Born on Dec. 9, 1946, she was elected as Congress President on 28th May 2005 by overwhelming support from across the country. She was born to Stefano and Paola Maino in contra 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. Sonia met Rajiv Gandhi in Cambridge during 1960s when the former Prime Minister was studying at the famous British University. They were married in 1968. The wedding was a simple nondenominational ceremony in the garden of 1, Safdarjang Road. The new addition to the family became an instant favourite. Sonia and Indira became extremely fond of each other. The couple has two children, Rahul Gandhi (born 1970) and Priyanka Gandhi (born 1972).
“I came to relish the flavours of India's many cuisines, to feel comfortable in Indian clothes, to speak Hindi and acquaint myself with the cultural heritage of my new homeland. The glorious and multi-hued palette of India came to be as dear and precious to me as it was to them (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi)”. These words from Sonia Gandhi clearly highlight her passion and love towards India.
Since Rajiv Gandhi's death, Sonia Gandhi led a life of near recluse for six years but for her appearances at a few official functions. But a number of Congress leaders and supporters looking for a charismatic personality to lead the party to electoral success kept sending their appeals to her to come and take over the party. She finally agreed to join politics in 1997 and in 1998, she was elected as the leader of the Congress. Since then, she has been the President of the Indian National Congress Party. She has served as the Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha since 2004. In September 2010, on being re-elected for the fourth time, she became the longest serving president in the 125-year history of the Congress party. On the duty of a politician, Sonia Gandhi always believed and says “I believe that while remaining representative of all interests, politics has a particular duty to those in need. As a politician in a country where many still live in poverty, it is my obligation and my responsibility to strive to empower the poor and the vulnerable. At times, this means being willing to fight entrenched social injustice. Indeed, the Indian, so long disempowered by poverty, has a greater claim on the fruits of our growing prosperity. To eradicate poverty, inequality and injustice from our society is an enormous task and it does remain our motivating goal. There are some who argue that faster growth will in the long run solve problems of social inequality and poverty and narrow the gap between rich and the poor. My aim in politics has always been to do whatever I can in my own way to defend the secular, democratic foundations of our country and to address the concerns and aspirations of the many whose voice often remains unheard”.
Sonia 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.
As Congress President
Sonia Gandhi campaigned for the Congress in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Congress managed to get a tally of 141 seats, largely due to her charismatic presence during the campaign. Travelling the length and breadth of the country in a hurricane election tour, Sonia caught the imagination of the masses, by her emotional speeches. She was able to achieve an unexpected election success. 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. The election results provided her with a unique opportunity to become India's Prime Minister. She sacrificed the post in favour of Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Sonia Gandhi is the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC). Sonia Gandhi had announced her resignation from the Lok Sabha and also as chairperson of the National Advisory Council under the office-of-profit controversy and the speculation that the government was planning to bring an ordinance to exempt the post of chairperson of National Advisory Council from the purview of office of profit. She was re-elected from her constituency Rae Bareilly in May 2006 by a huge margin of over 400,000 votes. She addressed the United Nations on 2 October 2007, Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary which is observed as the international day of non-violence after a UN resolution passed on 15 July 2007. Under her leadership, India returned the Congress-led-UPA to a near majority in the 2009 general elections with Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. The Congress itself won 206 Lok Sabha seats, which was the highest total by any party since 1991.Sonia Gandhi advocated austerity for all the congress MPs and set an example by travelling in economy class on her 14 September 2009 travel from New Delhi to Mumbai. She saved Rs 10,000. She also advocated for contribution of 20% of MPs salary for the drought affected victims in India.
As UPA Chairperson
As chairperson of the National Advisory Committee and the UPA chairperson, she played an important role in making the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Right to Information Act into law. She also actively involved in framing policies like Mid-day meal scheme for the school children, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, Anti Communalism Bill and Food security Bill. Sonia Gandhi is also keen to get the Women Reservation Bill implemented.
Sonia Gandhi has published two books about her late husband, “Rajiv” and “Rajiv`s World”, and edited two volumes of letters exchanged between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi from 1922 to 1964, “Freedom`s Daughter and Two Alone”, “Two Together”. Her other interests include reading Indian contemporary, classical and tribal art, Indian handlooms and handicrafts and, both folk and classical music. She has a diploma in conservation of oil paintings from the National Museum in New Delhi.