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Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi to fight Indian polls from family bastion

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Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi to fight Indian  polls from family bastion
India's main opposition Congress party president Sonia Gandhi addresses her supporters before what the party calls "Save Democracy" march to parliament in New Delhi, India, May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain   -   Copyright  Altaf Hussain(Reuters)
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By Nidhi Verma and Devjyot Ghoshal

NEWDELHI (Reuters) – Sonia Gandhi, former leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, will contest the 2019 general election from the Rae Bareli seat, a family stronghold in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that has voted for her since 2004.

The Italian-born 72-year-old, who forged a Congress-led coalition government for two successive terms in 2004 and 2009 to run the world’s largest democracy, has played a slightly reduced public role since being treated abroad for illness in 2011.

In 2017 she handed over the reins of the Congress Party to her 48-year-old son Rahul Gandhi, who will contest the Amethi constituency in the state, according to the first list of candidates released by the Congress party on Thursday.

The official entry of Sonia’s daughter, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, into electoral politics in January set the stage for the brother-sister duo to control Congress, which has ruled India for much of the time since independence from Britain in 1947.

The siblings’ great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was India’s first prime minister following independence from Britain in 1947. Their grandmother, Indira Gandhi, succeeded him after a brief interval. After she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984, her son, Rajiv Gandhi, took over as premier.

Rajiv was killed by an ethic Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning for the general election in 1991.

Sonia initially resisted calls to enter politics before taking the plunge and lifting Congress’ flagging fortunes under her family’s brand name.

Congress is trying to build an opposition alliance against Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Congress’ power base shrivelled in the 2014 election in the face of the popularity of now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However the party, which won elections in some states last year, is looking to capitalise on rising discontent over weak farm income and lackluster job growth.

(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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