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India's Ruling Party Chief Quits Parliament

The head of India's ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, has resigned from Parliament following a political controversy that threatened to disqualify her from her seat. Gandhi says she will return to Parliament.

In a short and unexpected statement, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi stepped down as a member of the lower house of Parliament on Thursday, saying she had not joined politics for selfish reasons.

The resignation came in the wake of opposition party petitions that Gandhi should be disqualified from Parliament because she holds another salaried government position.

Those demands erupted after a lawmaker from a rival party was disqualified, apparently at the insistence of the Congress Party, for holding a second post.

The Indian constitution bars lawmakers from holding any government post that entitles them to pay or perks. Gandhi headed a government body known as the National Advisory Council - a post she relinquished along with her parliamentary seat.

The opposition demands for Gandhi's disqualification prompted the Congress Party to consider bringing in changes in the law so that Mrs. Gandhi could continue to hold her parliamentary seat.

But that prompted an outcry from opposition parties, who accused the government of trying to change rules to benefit Gandhi.

As the controversy raged, Gandhi made the dramatic announcement that she would quit. She said she is only in politics to serve the country.

"I have done this because I think this is the right thing to do," she said.

As hundreds of Congress party workers chanted slogans in her support, Gandhi said she is not leaving politics, and will run for a parliamentary seat again.

A senior leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata party called Mrs. Gandhi's resignation a bid to gain the moral high ground.

"This is a desperate attempt to save her face in the midst of developments that took place in the last two days. The politics of revenge has recoiled back," he said.

This is not the first time that Gandhi has surprised her adversaries. She turned down the post of prime minister two years ago after leading her Congress Party to a dramatic victory after opposition lawmakers argued that a person of foreign origin should not head the government.

Gandhi is the Italian-born widow of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and is considered one of India's most powerful politicians.