Rahul’s Ultimatum: Sonia Gandhi’s Crucial Decision

A new book has shed light on a pivotal moment in Indian politics that changed the course of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and its leadership. On May 17, 2004, an intense meeting took place at 10, Janpath, where Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party, was confronted by her son Rahul with an ultimatum. The book delves into the emotional exchange that led Sonia Gandhi to make a life-altering decision, relinquishing her claim to the Prime Ministership despite the UPA’s victory.

The Threatening Ultimatum: As the afternoon meeting commenced, senior leaders, including Manmohan Singh and Priyanka Gandhi, were present. Rahul Gandhi, her son, took the room by surprise when he boldly declared that he would not let Sonia become the Prime Minister. He cited the assassinations of his father and grandmother and warned that she could face a similar fate within six months. Rahul gave his mother a mere 24 hours to decide. The tension in the room was palpable as Sonia Gandhi was visibly distressed by her son’s words.

Sonia’s Dilemma: The threat from her son weighed heavily on Sonia Gandhi’s mind. As Natwar Singh, a close associate of the Gandhi family, later revealed, Rahul’s strong-willed personality left Sonia with an impossible decision. Feeling torn between her political ambitions and her maternal instincts, she found it challenging to ignore Rahul’s plea.

The Turning Point: Rahul’s threatening ultimatum turned out to be the decisive factor. As a mother, Sonia could not ignore her son’s emotional plea, which ultimately led her to change her mind about becoming Prime Minister. At the meeting, Sonia informed the senior party leaders that she had decided to appoint Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister.

The Impact of the Decision: By stepping away from the country’s premiership, Sonia Gandhi solidified her position as the Congress Party’s longest-serving chief, leading the party for 22 years. The book highlights the unparalleled political legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family, spanning seven generations, with Sonia being a pivotal link. Her decision not to become Prime Minister paved the way for Manmohan Singh’s premiership.

Behind the Scenes: Before making her decision public, Sonia Gandhi had confided in party functionaries and leaders about her intentions. She shared her concerns with Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni, her political secretaries, and sought their counsel. Despite attempts to dissuade her, Sonia remained steadfast in her resolve to prioritize the well-being of her family and the country over her political ambitions.

The Aftermath: Sonia’s announcement about Manmohan Singh’s nomination as Prime Minister left the supporting leaders upset, as they had expected her to take up the role. The media was abuzz with speculation about the uncertainty surrounding her elevation. The Left parties, in particular, were surprised by the decision but ultimately accepted the fait accompli.

The revelations from the new book provide valuable insights into the emotional journey of Sonia Gandhi as she grappled with the weight of her political aspirations and the love for her family. Her decision not to become Prime Minister left a lasting impact on Indian politics, solidifying her position as a pivotal figure in the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. The meeting on May 17, 2004, remains an unforgettable moment that shaped the political landscape of India for years to come.


India’s prime ministers have taken decisions that changed the course of the country’s history. This book by Neerja Chowdhury, an award-winning journalist and political commentator, goes beyond the news headlines to provide an eye-opening account of how some of the most important political decisions in independent India were taken.

The author analyses the operating styles of the country’s prime ministers through the prism of six decisions of historic significance. These are as follows: the strategy that Indira Gandhi devised to return to power in 1980, after her humiliating defeat post the Emergency in 1977; the errors of judgment that led Rajiv Gandhi to undo the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case; V. P. Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission Report to save his government which forever changed the face of contemporary politics; P. V. Narasimha Rao’s masterful indecision that resulted in the demolition of the Babri Masjid; the rapidly changing political scenarios that turned the avowed pacifist Atal Bihari Vajpayee into a nuclear hawk who greenlighted the testing of nuclear devices; and the mild and professorial Manmohan Singh, widely regarded as one of the country’s weakest prime ministers, who defied interest groups and foes within the political establishment to seal a historic nuclear deal with the United States—and upgraded the bilateral relationship to a new level.

Based on hundreds of interviews that the author conducted with prime ministers, key figures in the political establishment, bureaucrats, aides, policymakers, and even fixers—the book provides remarkable insights that have been gleaned over forty years of high-level reporting on the national political scene.

How Prime Ministers Decide is an unparalleled book about modern Indian politics which will change the way we view how prime ministers govern the country.