Now Mahatma sounds like a name that goes with Gandhi right? That's because both parts of the name are of Indian origin. But “Sonia” Gandhi? Not! I think we need a little bit of background information here. Mahatma is the wise old guy that made himself instrumental in India's gaining independence from Great Britain in 1948, and we have all seen the famous 1982 movie. Ever since his triumphal victory over the British Empire through non-violent resistance, everybody who wants to be anybody in India wishes their name were Gandhi.
If you guessed that our subject Sonia was born and raised in Italy, and just happened to meet a cute Gandhi when they were both attending school near Cambridge England, you were right! Sonia's new beau, Rajiv Gandhi's mother was Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister of India when they married in 1968. So that's how the Italian Signora became a Gandhi, but how did Indira become a Gandhi? Her husband's name was Feroze Khan. They say that Indira fell in love with Feroze, but his family was Muslim, and she would have lost her inheritance had she married a Khan. Enter Mahatma, who offered to adopt Feroze, and give him his name!
[To see what I'm up to here, read this introduction]
If you are still with me after that bit of historical drama, I will proceed with a short biography of Sonia G after she was married and living in India with the PM. Forsaking her modern Italian woman's attire and lifestyle, Sonia quickly adapted herself to life in India. She gave up her miniskirts for the sari, steeped herself in Indian culture and learned to speak Hindi. While her husband's brother, Sanjay, entered politics, Rajiv became an airline pilot, and the couple had two children.
Sanjay was the likely successor to Indira, but was killed in an accident in 1980, and Indira essentially coerced Rajiv to enter the fray as member of Parliament. Sonia was not happy, but gave her full support in the end. A few years later, Indira was assassinated and Sonia Gandhi, the Italian immigrant, was suddenly wife of the Prime Minister of India. Here she excelled in all the diplomatic duties of the role. Behind the scenes she worked diligently as an art historian, and she prepared historical Indian correspondence for publication.
Rajiv lost the 1989 election attempt, and, tragically, was assassinated when running again in 1991. Sonia was devastated, and disappeared from public view. Eventually she wrote two successive books about Rajiv which brought her great popularity among India's electorate. By 1997 she was being pressed into running for Parliament and leading the Congress Party. In 2004, her party won the majority, and Sonia Gandhi was being pressed to accept the call to become Prime Minister.
Known among the masses as desh ki bahu (our daughter-in-law), and beloved, dressed regularly in the white sari of a widow, Sonia announced her decision: "I was always certain," she said, "that if ever I found myself in the position that I am in today, I would follow my inner voice. Today, that voice tells me that I must humbly decline this post."