In 2013, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was ranked 21st among the world`s most powerful people by Forbes magazine, making her the third most powerful of women leaders included in the list. In another list of the world`s 100 most powerful women, Forbes ranked the president of the Indian National Congress in the ninth spot.
Born on December 09, 1946 into a traditional, middle-class family at Lusiana in Italy, Sonia married Rajiv Gandhi, the son of Indira Gandhi and grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1968. She met and fell in love with Rajiv while studying in Cambridge, a biography says.
Sonia`s political journey was kick-started by tragedy and circumstance, rather than ambition. The witness of the assassination of her mother-in-law, Sonia was opposed to her husband Rajiv’s entry into the political arena. But after her husband`s assassination, Sonia eventually emerged as a unifying and strong figure in Congress when her party needed.
Sonia Gandhi, who shared strained ties with late prime minister PV Narasimha Rao as she was unhappy over the slow pace of progress in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe, took over as Congress(I) president in March 1998. Notably, she is the first person to complete 15 years as Congress president.
She took over in the wake of the Congress` dismal showing in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls that saw the exit of the late Sitaram Kesri from the post. In 1998, a demoralised Congress party was passing through a turbulent phase. In April 1999, Sonia Gandhi allied with the AIADMK, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government fell and she falsely staked claim to prime ministership, claiming the support of 272 MPs. The gaffe had left Sonia Gandhi`s image dented.
However, it was nothing less than a miracle when Gandhi led the party to victory in 2004 with 150 seats in the Lok Sabha and again in 2009 for the second time with 205 seats. It was in 2004 when Sonia declared that her inner voice told her not to aspire for the prime ministerial post. Dr Manmohan Singh was crowned as the PM of India. Sonia is now seen as a political leader of high calibre.
After holding the party together through the 10 years it has enjoyed in power, Sonia has grown both in stature and recognition as a crowd puller for the party.
What is also to her credit is the keen political sense she has been displaying in the years after the “we have the numbers” gaffe. She has warmed up to coalition partners when need by; gave out strict commands to the party workers with equal élan.
After a health scare last year, Sonia has been sharing her responsibility with her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul is being groomed as the next leader of the party who will chart out the path for the party in the coming years.
Congress` chances appear dismal in 2014 but it is too early to write off Sonia and for Rahul, he has has just started on a long journey to rebuild the party from within for the challenges it faces in the young India.