Sonia recalls first steps in politics

Sonia recalls first steps in politics

As she stepped down as Congress president, Sonia Gandhi on Saturday recalled her first steps in politics and the troubled times that forced her to take the plunge.

"I was so nervous that my hands were shaking," the 71-year-old Sonia recalled the day she assumed the charge of the party that was hit by factionalism, desertions and virtually on the brink of oblivion in 1998.

A fragmented Congress was in power in just three states Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Nagaland - and the BJP had just been elected to power at the Centre under the leadership of BJP stalwarts Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Home Minister L K Advani.

She told hundreds of Congress leaders gathered on the AICC lawns on Saturday how she had retreated into a shell following the assassination of her mother-in-law late prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.

"Then, just seven years after the death of Indiraji, my husband too was assassinated. I lost my anchor and my support. It was many years later that I could emerge from my shell," she recalled.

Those were testing times for the Congress that needed a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to be the glue to keep the different factions united.

"I felt that turning away from this summons would negate the sacrifice of my mother-in-law's life and my husband's life. So I entered politics to fulfil a duty to my family, party and country," Sonia said.

Her first year in politics was a turbulent one as senior leaders Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar and P A Sangma staged a revolt citing her foreign origins. She quit as the Congress president on May 15, 1995, only to return five days later after the party had expelled the trio.

But perseverance paid off and by 2004, Sonia led the Congress to a surprise victory in the Lok Sabha elections and formed a coalition government with outside support from the Left parties.

"...for ten years we gave the people a responsible and progressive government led by Dr Manmohan Singh that worked for all sections of our society," she said.

However, she said the Congress has never faced a bigger challenge than in the present times when the "fundamentals of our Constitution are under attack" and the party has lost several state elections since 2014.

"We are not the ones to bend in fear because our struggle is a fight for the very soul of this nation. We will never retreat from this fight," Sonia said.

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