Sonia completes 10 years in Congress Presidency

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New Delhi, Mar 12 (UNI) Ms Sonia Gandhi will complete ten years as Congress President on March 14, becoming the longest serving chief of India's oldest political party.

Her decade-long stint was the toughest ever for any leader in the 123-year-old history of the Party as she was burdened with the task of managing a coalition government for the first time at the Centre, political analysts say.

The high point of her Presidency was the victory of the Congress Party and its allies in the 2004 May Lok Sabha elections after eight years in the wilderness.

Though she was singularly credited for the victory of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, she renounced the post of Prime Minister in favour of her close confidante and renowned economist Manmohan Singh.

Her "sacrifice" took her stature as a political leader to new heights.

The Italy-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi remained in the backstage for nearly seven years after the assassintion of her husband in 1991.

As the leadership of P V Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesari could not provide unity among the leaders in the party, she was left with no option but to take over the reins of the party on March 14, 1998 and provide the much needed "rallying" focus for the groupism-torn party.

"We are fortunate that Ms Gandhi led us for ten years. She becomes the longest serving president of the oldest political institution," AICC Spokesman Manish Tiwari said here today.

"Over the last ten years, the Congress has consolidated itself, rejuvenated itself and outreached to the people," he said.

Mr Tiwari said March 14 would be an occasion for the Congressmen to feel happy about of leadership provided by Ms Gandhi.

The 62-year-old Ms Gandhi has proved every one of the sceptics wrong in the past one decade, the analysts said.

From a virtual sphinx, she has emerged as a powerful voice for India in the international community, a tough challenge for the opposition in the country and a leader who signifies perpetual hope for the Congress party.

When she took over the Presidency, many thought she would not last. There were many critics even within the Congress. But she proved them wrong in a short period.

She remained subdued during her initial days, but started asserting her authority a short while later.

Ms Gandhi endeared herself to all the leaders of the Party from different parts of the country through her simple, compassionate and inspiring traits. In effect, she led the party without any opposition for a decade, a clear indication that her leadership has no threat.

During her presidency, Ms Gandhi had showed extraordinary maturity not only in keeping her partymen united, but also keeping the coalition partners and the Left parties at the Centre in good humour.

Though there were demands for giving greater responsibility to her son Rahul Gandhi in the party, she took nearly three years to take a decision on bringing him onto the mainstream of the party politics.

She made Rahul Gandhi a member of the Congress Working Committee and General Secretary of the AICC about eight months ago.

Ms Gandhi has emerged as an immensely popular leader not only within the country but also abroad. She was rated the third most powerful woman by the Forbes magazine.

UNI SH RP RS1829

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