An enigmatic Sonia Gandhi transforms Indian politics
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, is rapidly becoming a political power in her own right.
Soft-spoken and with little political experience, she arouses a frenzy of emotion among supporters when she appears in public. Many are saying Sonia Gandhi may be poised to become prime minister.
"There is a mystique about her," said political analyst Saeed Naqvid. "She is the supervising deity of the Congress party."
After her husband's assassination more than seven years ago, a grief-stricken Sonia Gandhi retreated from public view.
But in January, she emerged from the shadows to lead India's 113-year-old Congress party back from the brink of disintegration.
The party had dominated Indian politics for decades, but suffered major setbacks in the past two years from corruption scandals and infighting.
Under Sonia Gandhi's leadership, it made a stunning comeback in India's recent state elections, trouncing the ruling Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata party.
"She gave the party again a nucleus around which it could get united," said Ambika Soni, a Congress party official.
Although she did not run for a parliamentary seat herself, the 51-year-old Gandhi attracted large crowds during the campaign. She was seen as a prominent figure that reminded voters of the more glorious days of Congress, which was once the most influential party in India.
Congress, which was founded in 1885, governed India for most of the 50 years since the end of British rule, and the Gandhi dynasty figured prominently during these years.
Rajiv Gandhi, his mother Indira Gandhi and grandfather Nehru were all Indian prime ministers. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984.
"But Sonia Gandhi herself remains a mystery," Naqvid said. "What she's thinking, what her economic policies are going to be, whether she is a prime ministerial candidate for the Congress party -- all that is still in the realm of speculation."
This lack of narrow political interests -- coupled with the Gandhi name -- is what gives her such broad appeal, said Dileep Padgaonkar of The Times of India.
"The political ideology associated with the Nehru-Gandhi family is more like an umbrella," he said. "They look after all kinds of interests and I think that matters a great deal."
"We believe since Sonia is a Gandhi and it is under the Gandhis that India has seen stability, she is good for us," Soni said.
Many Indians do not view Gandhi as an outsider, although she did not live in the country until her marriage in 1968.
"Ever since she married Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia has lived in India," said one male supporter in a village. "She has learned all about India and made herself an Indian. In fact, she is a good example of a good Indian woman."
And, as many political observers might add, a good politician.
New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap contributed to this report.
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