NEW DELHI (AFP) - Mrs Sonia Gandhi's shock decision not to take over as India's prime minister a decade ago followed an appeal by her son Rahul, who feared she would be assassinated like her husband, according to a former family confidant.
Mrs Gandhi, who was widowed when former premier Rajiv Gandhi was slain by a suicide bomber, had been expected to assume the premiership in 2004 after leading the Congress party to an election victory.
But she instead stood aside in favour of Dr Manmohan Singh, who went on to serve two terms as prime minister before Congress suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in May.
In a television interview to promote his new memoirs, former foreign minister Natwar Singh said that Mrs Gandhi had been in tears at a family meeting after Rahul pleaded with her to turn down the job.
"He was very adamant and wouldn't let her become prime minister," Mr Singh told the Headlines Today network Wednesday night.
"As a mother she didn't want to agonise him," he added.
The Italian-born Mrs Gandhi, who remains president of the party, caused a major upset in 2004 when she steered the centre-left Congress to victory over the BJP.
Her party's unexpected victory triggered poisonous exchanges over the prospect that a foreigner could lead the world's largest democracy.
Mr Rahul Gandhi was devastated by his father's assassination by a Tamil extremist in 1991, seven years after his grandmother Indira was gunned down by two of her Sikh bodyguards while she was prime minister.
The 44-year-old was his party's frontman in this year's elections and spoke on the campaign trail of his grief as a child and young adult over the loss of his father and grandmother.
Mr Natwar Singh fell out with the Congress leadership after he was sacked as foreign minister over a corruption scandal and his book contains claims that the "Machiavellian" Mrs Gandhi frequently undermined Dr Manmohan Singh's premiership, according to excerpts.
Asked about the book, Mrs Gandhi told the NDTV television station that she planned to put the record straight herself at some stage.
"I can't be hurt. I have seen my mother-in-law riddled by bullets, my husband dead... I am far from getting hurt with these things," she said.
"I will write my own book and then everyone will know the truth."