Gandhi, Sonia

Gandhi, Sonia gänˈdē [key], 1946–, Indian politician, b. Turin, Italy, as Sonia Maino. She met Rajiv Gandhi in 1965 when they were students in Cambridge, England. They were married in 1968 and settled in his family home in India. Sonia Gandhi, who became an Indian citizen in 1983, was close to her mother-in-law, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, accompanying her on many trips throughout India. When Indira was assassinated (1984) and succeeded as prime minister by Rajiv, Sonia remained in the background. When Rajiv, too, was assassinated (1991), she continued to shun political life. She finally entered the public arena in 1998, campaigning for the faltering Congress party (see Indian National Congress); she was instrumental in Congress's winning an increased number of seats in parliament and was elected head of the party. In the 1999 elections Gandhi won a seat in parliament but failed to lead Congress in a return to power. When the 2004 elections resulted in a surprise victory for Congress and its allies, she chose not to become prime minister but remained the influential leader of the party. She resigned from parliament in 2006 when opposition politicians sought to have her disqualified because she also headed the National Advisory Council (NAC), an unsalaried government post that nonetheless could be considered an “office of profit” and subject her to parliamentary disqualification. At the same time she also resigned her NAC post. She subsequently won reelection (2006, 2009, 2014) to parliament, and later also served again (2010–14) as head of the NAC. She stepped down as party leader in 2017 and was succeeded by her son, Rahul Gandhi. When he stepped down after election losses in 2019, she became interim party leader. Despite critics who have objected to her Italian birth, she, Rahul, and her daughter, Priyanka, have been generally popular heirs to the Nehru family dynasty.

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