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Sonia sets several records in Congress history

By George Joseph,IANS,

New Delhi: As Sonia Gandhi is all set to be unanimously elected Friday for a fourth term as the Congress president, she will be setting several records in the history of the 125-year-old party, among them being the longest-serving incumbent.

Italian-born Sonia Gandhi (nee Maino), who has been the Congress president since 1998, is the seventh person of foreign origin to become the president of the Congress – a party formed to secure a greater share in governance for educated Indians.

Sixty-three-year-old Sonia Gandhi, who settled in India after marrying Nehru family scion Rajiv Gandhi in 1968, is the first person of foreign origin to become the Congress chief since Independence.

Though Alan Octavio Hume, a Scotsman, had founded the Congress in 1885, he did not become its president. Instead, W.C. Bonnerjee, a prominent lawyer and nationalist of what was then Calcutta, was elected the Congress president at its inaugural session in Bombay (now Mumbai).

George Yule became the first foreigner to become the Congress president at its 1888 Allahabad session.

The other foreigners who have held the top post during the freedom struggle were William Wedderburn (1889-Mumbai session), Alfred Webb (1894-Chennai session), Henry Cotton (1904-Mumbai), Annie Besant (1917-Kolkata) and Nalini (Nellie) Sen Gupta (1933-Kolkata).

While the other six foreign-born Congress chiefs were British, Sonia Gandhi is the first Italian-born to hold the post.

Sonia Gandhi is the fifth woman president of Congress. In 1917, Annie Besant became the first woman chief of the party.

Sarojini Naidu became the first Indian woman to assume the post at the 1925 Kanpur session.

Sonia Gandhi’s mother-in-law and former prime minister Indira Gandhi first became the Congress chief in 1960, when her father Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister. She assumed the post again in 1978, when the Congress was in the opposition. She continued in the post till her assassination in 1984.

Indira Gandhi set the trend in 1980 of the prime minister also being the Congress chief, which continued during the tenures of prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Sonia is the fifth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to become the Congress president, and belongs to the fourth generation of the family to hold the post.

Rajiv Gandhi’s great grandfather and eminent lawyer Motilal Nehru was the first from the Nehru family to be elected to the party chief’s post at the Amritsar session in 1919. He again assumed the post in 1928 at the Kolkata session.

Motilal Nehru was succeeded by his son Jawaharlal Nehru at the 1929 Lahore session. Jawaharlal Nehru became Congress chief seven more times – 1930, 1936, 1937, 1946, 1951, 1953 and 1954.

Sonia Gandhi, who has been in office for 12 years, has already become the longest-serving Congress president. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi each held the post for only seven years. However, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected to the post eight times, while Sonia Gandhi will be elected for the fourth time Friday.

“Sonia Gandhi’s importance in the Congress’ history should not be viewed only by the longevity of her career. She has held the post during crucial times and led the party very ably,” recalled 93-year-old K. Karunakaran, a special invitee to the Congress Working Committee and one of the oldest active Congress leaders.

“She defended the Congress against the National Democratic Alliance government for six years and brought the party back to power at the centre, that too, without compromising on the party’s principles,” Karunakaran told IANS.