Increasingly more comfortable with her Hindi and her public life, Sonia Gandhi's six-year stint as Congress president has been a mixed bag for the party. It initially led to the return of old leaders like Madhavrao Scindia who had parted ways during Narasimha Rao's tenure, but later forced the departure of Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and some other top guns. The party has failed to return to its glory days as the country's single largest, but has also avoided being rendered into oblivion, as predicted by some pundits, under her.
Charges against her have ranged from trying to push the country back to colonial times, to maintaining the hold of the Gandhi dynasty over the Congress until her children Priyanka and Rahul, the real inheritors, are old enough to take over. But she has maintained her hold, saw the return of several Congress state governments (the latest assembly polls were an aberration), and presided over the most fundamental change in Congress policy in the last decade - the acceptance of coalition politics.
She joined the party as a primary member in August 1997 before becoming the president (Congress's eight foreign origin president) as well as the chief of the Congress parliamentary party in March 1998 after winning from Amethi. Her entry into politics - which she had always maintained she hated - came six years after the death of her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Born into a working class family in Ovassanjo, Italy in 1946, Sonia met Rajiv as a student in England and married him in 1968. She settled down in India, but became a citizen only in 1984. Even her pre-politics days were not without controversy. The infamous Bofors scandal, which eventually cost Rajiv his premiership, was said to be borne out of her Italian connections. The stain has followed her all these years, and it is only now, with the courts ruling in her favour and a plethora of new scandals hitting Indian politics routinely, that she seems to be coming out of its shadow.