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Meet India’s Sonia Gandhi

How will yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan leave her marks on India’s politics?

May 17, 2004

How will yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan leave her marks on India's politics?

India has stunned the world by electing the Indian Congress Party — and ousting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Many Indians are skeptical of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi because of her Italian roots. Still, India has come to full circle again in giving power to yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Our Globalist Factsheet examines an unwilling party leader.

Where does Sonia Gandhi come from?

The president of India’s Congress party Sonia Gandhi, born Maino, is the daughter of an Italian builder and hails from a village outside Turin.
(The Guardian)

Where did the then-Miss Maino meet her future husband?

Sonia met Rajiv Gandhi in 1965 in Cambridge, where she was a language student.
(Boston Globe)

When did she become an Indian citizen?

Sonia Gandhi did not take Indian citizenship until 1983 — 15 years after she married Rajiv.
(London Times)

Yet, how Indian is she?

Although Sonia Gandhi is mocked for her “spaghetti English,” she speaks in Hindi — and wears the traditional sari or the salwar-kurta shirt and trousers.
(China Daily)

How eager was she to get into politics?

After the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the Congress Party elected his widow Sonia Gandhi as his successor. She refused the post — and retired into a secluded life.
(London Daily Mail)

What made her decide to support the Congress Party in March 1998, after all?

After the Congress Party was severely beaten in the 1998 election, Ms. Gandhi accepted the party’s decision to appoint her president in order to revive the faltering party’s fortunes.
(The Globalist)

Did she have an easy start?

In 1998, when Sonia Gandhi made her maiden speech in India’s parliament, she faced jeers and catcalls for having to read from a prepared script.
(London Daily Telegraph)

Did Ms. Gandhi despair of the problems she faced?

In May 1999, Sonia Gandhi offered to resign from the Congress Party leadership after three senior leaders challenged her right as someone “not born of Indian soil” to try to become India’s Prime Minister.
(London Times)

In leading India, what particular burden does she face?

Sonia Gandhi is the widow and daughter-in-law of two assassinated Indian prime ministers. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in November 1984.
(The Globalist)

How many members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty have held top posts in the Congress party?

After Jawaharlal Nehru, her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, her brother-in-law Sanjay Gandhi and her husband Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi was the fifth member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to take up the reins of the Congress party.
(Financial Times)

Is the family united behind the party?

As of 2004, while India’s Congress Party has been dominated by the Gandhi clan, Sonia Gandhi’s sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi and Ms. Maneka’s son Varum Gandhi joined the BJP party in 2004.

What about the extended family?

As of 2004, Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka’s father-in law and brother-in law are reported to be Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — or RSS — which gave birth to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
(Los Angeles Times)

How did Italy react to Sonia Gandhi’s election victory?

After the election victory of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, the one Italian paper that had absolutely no mention of Sonia Gandhi was L’Osservatore Romano — the official newspaper of the Vatican.
(Financial Times)

And finally, why is that surprising?

As of 2004, Sonia Gandhi is still a Roman Catholic.
(London Daily Telegraph)