Sonia Gandhi win from the Rae Bareli with 5,34,918 votes.
A fairy tale wedding, tragedy, struggle, renunciation of the top job and huge political power – Sonia Gandhi has walked through most of it in the media glare. In 2007, TIME Magazine put her on the cover its Asia edition, calling her gesture of turning down Prime Ministership “Gandhian”. In 2013, the Forbes magazine named her the world’s third most powerful woman, placing her just after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff.
Amid reports of ill health, the 72-year-old had taken a step back from active politics since handing charge of the Congress to her son Rahul Gandhi in December 2017. But over the last week, she suddenly found herself dusting off her UPA chairperson’s hat and putting it on, as key allies appeared to drift away, spurred by a high-pressure BJP campaign and their own ambitions for the top job.
Her attempts to host a strategy session ahead of the counting fell through — both Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati refused to budge – but it marked how far Sonia Gandhi has come from being the reluctant politician thrust onto the centrestage in 1997, six years after the assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi.
It was not a position Sonia Gandhi was prepared for, despite her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi’s mentoring since her wedding in 1968.
Italy-born Sonia Maino met Rajiv Gandhi while both were studying in Cambridge and both managed to stay away from politics till the death of Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s younger son – the son she was grooming for politics.
Compelled to pick up the reins of the Grand Old Party when it was facing some of its most difficult years under Sitaram Kesri, Sonia Gandhi survived the early years with the huge support from Gandhi family loyalists.
For her electoral debut in 1999, she was fielded from two constituencies — one of them the Gandhi family borough of Amethi. But she showed an unexpected combative side, also winning the election against the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj from Karnataka’s Bellary.
But the Congress lost the national election, and as the chief of the Congress party, she was elected the Leader of the Parliament.
Over the following years, she juggled party and parliament, slowly building around her a team of trusted advisors. Though her Hindi remained stilted, she grew comfortable among the people and with crisp cotton saris reminiscent of Indira Gandhi, managed to carve her niche as much in parliament as among the masses.
In 2004, the Congress made an unexpected return to power. But Sonia Gandhi – who for years, had borne the “foreign born” jibe from the opposition — turned down the post of the Prime Minister despite frantic pleadings by Congressmen. It was a move that shocked many. Others termed her the power behind the throne – given the quiet personality of Manmohan Singh, who became the Prime Minister.
Her big strength was in keeping together the disparate conglomerate of parties that backed the Congress – after getting several of them to back it in the first place. Her New Year walk in 2004 — from 10 Janpath to Number 12, Ram Vilas Paswan’s house – ended with him agreeing to back her party.
She is considered the main backer for several key welfare schemes of the UPA government, including its flagship MNREGA. The downside – critics said she was the main force in the UPA government and Manmohan Singh just a front. But their partnership had continued smoothly till 2014, when the BJP captured power driving accusations of corruption and mis-governance against the Congress government.
Over the last five years, Sonia Gandhi’s involvement in active politics has dwindled amid reports of ill health. She had gone to the US for treatment and was even hospitalised here. Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, she fell ill during a rally and had to be brought back to Delhi.
But despite it all, she is still very much at the helm along with her children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and involved with all key decisions regarding the party.