NEW DELHI (AFP) — When India's enigmatic Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi first nominated the studious Manmohan Singh as premier in 2004, observers had their antennae tuned for signs of the first rift. But five years on, the elegant Italian-born widow and the 76-year-old turbaned Sikh, dubbed the "odd couple" by India's media, are heading into another term of office after Congress's huge re-election victory. And they would appear -- outwardly, at least -- to still be on good terms. After the results rolled in last weekend showing Congress sweeping to its biggest win in 18 years, Gandhi beamed as she ushered the septuagenarian to a podium outside her home and declared he would again be her choice for premier. There have been whispers of clashes but Gandhi, a fit and attractive 62, has said she and Singh have always worked in harmony. "I adore the prime minister for the manner in which he handles the government," the widow of former premier Rajiv Gandhi and daughter-in-law of former prime minister Indira Gandhi -- both of whom were assassinated -- said in 2007. "We work very closely in an atmosphere of frankness," said Gandhi, who arrived in India as a bride in her early 20s and has transformed herself into a sari-clad Indian who speaks Hindi fluently, albeit with an accent. In 2004, in a blitzkrieg campaign courting India's poor masses, she led the centre-left Congress to a surprise poll triumph after years in the wilderness. She gave up the chance to be premier, instead nominating the softly spoken Singh, an esteemed economist who has earned the reputation of being the "Mr Clean's Mr Clean" in India's murky politics. "I must admire her political sagacity," Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said this week for the way she has managed to silence opposition taunts that she was a power-hungry "foreign doll." Pundits reckon however Gandhi still calls the shots in the partnership, taking on India's bruising political wheeler-dealing while Singh administers the nation's affairs. "It's a very convenient division of labour -- he's good on policy and she looks after the politics. They also have a certain innate mutual respect," said columnist Parsa Venkateshwar Rao. Gandhi's emergence as India's most powerful politician caps a remarkable life story. Daughter of a middle-class Italian builder, she was thrust into the world of India's political first family after marrying Rajiv Gandhi in 1968, whom she met at a restaurant in England where she was studying English. Before she came to live with his family, she knew only India had "snakes, elephants and jungles," she recalled once. Her husband's assassination in 1991 by a Tamil rebel suicide bomber left Congress in limbo and the party turned to his widow to rebuild it. Her makeover from a stiff, shy housewife into a public persona was tough. "I used to be a very, very private person," said Gandhi, who still almost never gives interviews. "It took a great deal of adjustment... to be in the limelight." There are cynics who say she opted for Singh because his self-effacing style meant he was unlikely to seize centre-stage from the charismatic Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has given India three premiers. She is seen as carefully managing the eventual rise to the premiership of her son Rahul Gandhi, 38, whom she thrust into a central role in the latest campaign. Rahul "has earned his political legitimacy in this election," said veteran commentator M.J. Akbar. "It is highly likely at some point there may even be a transition in government with Singh making way for Rahul." Many in Congress cannot conceive of a future without a Gandhi in charge, but Sonia has insisted Rahul must prove himself if he wants to become premier. "If you have a family whose earlier generations have been in politics it gives you a head start," she said. "But India is a democracy. You may have an advantage at the beginning but you have to work hard to prove yourself," she added knowingly.