Article by Aakar Patel @ The News International:
No leader in the world is like Sonia Gandhi. She is a European leading a major Asian power. A Roman Catholic, and perhaps a practising one though she makes no display of her faith, in a nation that is dominant Hindu and Muslim.
She has the sort of power in her country that few leaders in the west have. And though they do not seem keen to own her, not since Mussolini and perhaps not even since the Caesars has an Italian individual been this powerful.
Sonia isn't properly educated, but is seen by India's middle-class as quite sophisticated. There isn't any evidence to show that she's well- read either, but her manner is refined, even reginal. She met her husband Rajiv Gandhi at Cambridge, though she wasn't at the university. She was taking English language lessons at a school, having come there from her home in Italy. Rajiv was attending Trinity, and said in a famous interview that he had 'flunked out' without a degree. Their son Rahul attended Trinity, and passed.
Sonia was 19 when she met Rajiv and 22 when they married. He was only a couple of years older, and so it must have been a partnership of equals, particularly because Rajiv was relaxed and not chauvinistic.
Two attempts were made to delegitimise Sonia when the Congress was weak. The first by the ambitious Sharad Pawar, leader of the Congress in Maharashtra, a state with 100 million people whose capital is Bombay. He revolted in 1999, saying a foreigner should not head the Congress. Few joined him, and he has become a minor player now. Sonia showed pragmatism by later allying with Pawar's party, an act that kept Thackeray out of power.
The second attempt was made after the Congress won in 2004. BJP leaders, led by Sushma Swaraj, said they would not allow Sonia to take office.
Sonia Gandhi is 63, and has led the world's biggest political party, and one of its oldest, for 11 years. At her age, her mother-in-law had just come back to power and would spend another four years in office.