She accepted Indian citizenship in 1983 (the long interval is still a matter of some controversy). She did not enter politics until after her husband's assassination on May 21, 1991. Following his death, she received great pressure from the Congress party to enter politics, to continue the Congress' dynastic tradition of being led by a member of the Jawaharlal Nehru-Indira Gandhi family.
In 1998 she formally entered politics, assuming the helm of the decaying Congress party and declaring herself a candidate for Prime Minister. Largely through her family name, she was able to draw large crowds and nearly single-handedly revitalized the party. However, she remained a somewhat enigmatic figure, and her opposition (chiefly the Bharatiya Janata Party) constantly played off the fact that she was foreign-born and was not a fluent Hindi speaker until she entered politics, frequently asserting that she had no qualifications other than her name.