New Delhi: Born as Antonia Edvige Albina Maino, and more popularly known as Sonia Gandhi, turned 66 today.  As the nation celebrated her birthday on Friday, the Congress President kept a low key affair following a surgery few months back.

SONIA'S JOURNEY IN PICS

Gandhi had appealed to party workers not to take a lot of trouble and spend money to come all the way to Delhi from far off places to greet her. Despite the appeal, party workers gathered at her residence since early morning beating drums and taking out processions to celebrate her birthday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wished her over the phone.

Special prayers were offered at a mobile temple outside Gandhi's 10, Janpath residence and enthusiastic Congress workers cut huge cakes and distributed it to all gathered there.

Early life

Sonia Gandhi was born to Stefano and Paola Maino in Contrada Màini, at Lusiana, a little village 30 km from Vicenza in Veneto, Italy, where families with the family name "Màino" have been living for many generations.

She was raised in a traditional Roman Catholic family and went to a Catholic school. Her father, a building mason, 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. She met Rajiv Gandhi, who was enrolled in Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, in 1965 at a Greek restaurant (the Varsity Restaurant) while working there as a waitress to make ends meet.

Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi married in 1968, following which she moved into the house of her mother-in-law and then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

The wedding was a simple ceremony in the garden of 1, Safdarjang Road.  It was held on Vasant Panchami day in February, the same day when Indira Gandhi married Feroze decades earlier. She wore a pink sari made from cotton which Nehru had spun while in prison. It was the same sari which Indira Gandhi had worn for her wedding.

Political career

Sonia’s detesment for politics is evident from the fact that she has threatened to divorce Rajiv if he ever enetered politics. She had said that she would have rather seen her children beg than enter into the maelstrom of Indian political life.

But destiny had special plans for her and against her wishes she her involvement with Indian public life began after the assassination of her mother-in-law and her husband's election as Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister's wife she acted as his official hostess and also accompanied him on a number of state visits.

In 1980, her name appeared in the voter's list for New Delhi prior to her becoming an Indian Citizen, when she was still holding Italian Citizenship. It was a violation of Indian Laws. When she did acquire Indian Citizenship in April 1983, the issue cropped up again, as her name appeared on the 1983 voter's list when the deadline for registering had been in January 1983.

In an effort to revive the party's sagging fortunes, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, she joined the Congress Party as a primary member in the Calcutta Plenary Session in 1997 and became party leader in 1998.

In May 1999, three senior leaders of the party (Sharad Pawar, Purno A. Sangma, and Tariq Anwar) challenged her right to try to become India's Prime Minister because of her foreign origins. In response, she offered to resign as party leader, resulting in an outpouring of support and the expulsion from the party of the three rebels who went on to form the Nationalist Congress Party.

Within 62 days of joining as a primary member, she was offered the party President post which she accepted. 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.

Leader of the Opposition

Sonia Gandhi was elected as the Leader of the Opposition of the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999 when the BJP-led NDA formed a government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. She called a no-confidence motion against the NDA government in 2003.

She holds the record of having served as Congress President for 10 years consecutively.
In 2004 general elections, she won by a large margin in Rae Bareilly constituency. Following the unexpected defeat of the NDA, she was widely expected to be the next Prime Minister of India. On May 16, she was unanimously chosen to lead a 15-party coalition government with the support of the Left, which was subsequently named the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The defeated NDA protested once against her 'foreign origin' and senior NDA leader Sushma Swaraj threatened to shave her head and "sleep on the ground", among other things, should Sonia become Prime Minister.

A few days after the election, Gandhi appointed Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.

She addressed the United Nations on October 2, 2007, Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary which is observed as the international day of non-violence.

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.

Trivia

-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, she ranked as the ninth most powerful person on the planet by the same 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 29 in their annual survey of "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures" in the year 2010.

-Sonia on her first visit to Delhi: "When I first came to Delhi in 1968, my father had given me a return ticket. But Delhi was the place of my second birth and the ticket, like my past, was lost in the mists of time."

-Sonia’s favourite food: Freshly squeezed orange juic, daal and roti, smoked salamon. She avoids pastas, pizzas, noodles and almost any kind of junk food.

A lady who has witnessed various ups and downs in her life, a politician who has helped resurrect the fortune of Congress and a mother who is a hero to her children, nothing can describe Sonia Gandhi better than Rahul Gandhi’s quote: I've seen her fight the day my grandmother died. I've seen her fight the day my father died. And she has won. My mother is my hero."

JPN