On 14 March, when Sonia Gandhi completes 15 uninterrupted years - a unique distinction - as the Congress president, she has a lot of things in her credit, from strengthening her party to giving a visionary guidance to the Congress-led coalition government at the Centre. She took over as Congress President in 1998 at a time a demoralised and fragmented Congress party was going through a turbulent phase and ruling just four states of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Mizoram and Nagaland. And after taking over Sonia Gandhi restored the party's central place in the country's polity in six years.
After three continuous in 1996, 1998 and 1999, Sonia Gandhi played a pivotal role in bringing the Congress party back to power in 2004 and since then the Congress has successfully led a coalition government at the Centre and is in power in 13 states.
It was because of her persistent intervention and guidance the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre framed some land mark polices like Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, the Right to Education and the Right to Information. Women empowerment has always been her focus and she was instrumental for many polices by the Centre in that direction. The mid-day meal scheme in government schools is yet another example for her pro-poor approach. Now the government is ready with Food Security Bill, another dream project of Sonia Gandhi. She always argued for inclusive growth and insisted for special care to youth, women, minorities, tribals and other most backward classes. There is her mark in the latest Congress-led Centre government programme, the Direct cash transfer (DBT) in which the money meant for the poor will directly reach the beneficiaries bank accounts through Aadhar card.
It is a fact that the Congress was in disarray when Sonia Gandhi took over. But after that she has been able to establish unity and authority in the party and now Congress has regained its political domination across the country.
Sonia Gandhi has also been credited for taking the Congress to the left-of-the-centre position and for crafting good and effective coalitions. Her legacy is bringing Congress back to secular position with focus on welfare and distribution that helped the party to regain its dominance in the national polity in 2004.
It is a known fact that Sonia Gandhi, after the assassination of her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, had turned down repeated requests by Congress workers, leaders and followers to join the party, till 1997. And finally, on March 14, 1998, she was elected as the Congress President. The biggest challenge for her then was to rejuvenate the party that had crumbled and split over the years and it is history now that she could accomplish the task effectively and efficiently.
Though Congress faced electoral debacle initially, the party under the energetic leadership of Sonia Gandhi could come back with a bang in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress emerged as the single largest party and along with Left, and other like-minded parties formed the UPA government. Unperturbed by the foreign origin issue raked by her opponents, Sonia Gandhi had succeeded in demolishing BJP led NDA's "India Shining" campaigns with the "aam aadmi" slogan of the Congress.
The important milestone in her political career is her refusing the PM post. She stunned the entire world by declining to take up the top post. "Power in itself has never attracted me, nor has position been my goal," she had then said. The renunciation of power -- a move many described as one of her biggest political masterstrokes-- solidified Sonia Gandhi's position. Under her leadership, the UPA retained power in 2009 general elections with the Congress winning 206 seats, the highest by any party since 1991.
For Sonia Gandhi, the biggest challenge now, is to ensure Congress' victory in the coming assembly and Lok Sabha elections, which comes at a time when the party has been at the receiving end of several controversies. But, Congress is hopeful that with her visionary leadership and under newly appointed young Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the party will retain the power in the next general elections also.