Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) was an Indian diplomat and politician who was the first female elected to 6th Governor of Maharashtra and 8th President of the United Nations General Assembly. Hailing from a prominent political family, her brother Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of independent India, her niece Indira Gandhi the first female Prime Minister of India and her grand-nephew Rajiv Gandhi was the sixth Prime Minister of India. Pandit was sent to London as India's most important diplomat after serving as Nehru's envoy to the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Nations. Her time in London offers insights into the wider context of changes in Indo–British relations. Her High-Commissionership was a microcosm of inter-governmental relations.

Personal life

Vijaya Lakshmi's father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), a wealthy barrister who belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community, served twice as President of the Indian National Congress during the Independence Struggle. Her mother, Swaruprani Thussu (1868–1938), who came from a well-known Kashmiri Pandit family settled in Lahore, was Motilal's second wife, the first having died in child birth. She was the second of three children; Jawaharlal was eleven years her senior (b. 1889), while her younger sister Krishna Hutheesing (b. 1907-1967) became a noted writer and authored several books on their brother. In 1921, she was married to Ranjit Sitaram Pandit (1893–1944), a successful barrister from Kathiawar, Gujarat and classical scholar who translated Kalhana's epic history Rajatarangini into English from Sanskrit. Her husband was a Maharashtrian Saraswat Brahmin, whose family hailed from village of Bambuli, on the Ratnagiri coast, in Maharashtra. He was arrested for his support of Indian independence and died in Lucknow prison in 1944, leaving behind his wife and their three daughters Chandralekha Mehta, Nayantara Sehgal and Rita Dar. It is also being rumoured that before marrying Ranjit Sitaram Pandit she secretly married a Muslim journalist named Syed Hasan, but some of her senior family members separated the couple. She died in the year of 1990. Her daughter Chandralekha was married to Ashok Mehta and has three children- Arjun, Minakshi and Manjari. Her second daughter Nayantara Sahgal, is a well-known novelist. She was married to Gautam Sahgal and had three children - Nonika her eldest daughter, son Ranjit, and her youngest daughter Gita Sahgal. Nayantara married E. N. Mangat Rai in 1979. Her third daughter was Rita who was married to Avatar Krishna Dhar and has two children,son Gopal, and daughter Jyoti. She worked in Redcross. Gita Sahgal, Nayantara's youngest child, is the writer and journalist on issues of feminism, fundamentalism, and racism, director of prize-winning documentary films, and human rights activist, is one of her granddaughters.

Political career

Pandit was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post in pre-independent India. In 1937, she was elected to the provincial legislature of the United Provinces and was designated minister of local self-government and public health. She held the latter post until 1938 and again from 1946 to 1947. In 1946, she was elected to the Constituent Assembly from the United Provinces. Following India's freedom from British occupation in 1947 she entered the diplomatic service and became India's ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1947 to 1949, the United States and Mexico from 1949 to 1951, Ireland from 1955 to 1961 (during which time she was also the Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom), and Spain from 1958 to 1961. Between 1946 and 1968, she headed the Indian delegation to the United Nations. In 1953, she became the first woman President of the United Nations General Assembly (she was inducted as an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 1978 for this accomplishment). Hon. Members that Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit has resigned her seat in the House with effect from 17 December 1954 In India, she served as Governor of Maharashtra from 1962 to 1964, after which she was elected to the Indian parliament's lower house, Lok Sabha, from Phulpur, her brother's former constituency from 1964 to 1968. Pandit was a harsh critic of Indira Gandhi's years as Prime Minister especially after her niece had declared the emergency. Pandit retired from active politics after relations between them soured. On retiring, she moved to Dehradun in the Doon Valley in the Himalayan foothills. She came out of retirement in 1977 to campaign against Indira Gandhi and helped the Janata Party win the 1977 election. She was reported to have considered running for the presidency, but Neelam Sanjiva Reddy eventually ran and won the election unopposed. In 1979, she was appointed the Indian representative to the UN Human Rights Commission, after which she retired from public life. Her writings include ''The Evolution of India'' (1958) and ''The Scope of Happiness: A Personal Memoir'' (1979).


She was the member of Aligarh Muslim University Executive Council. She never received any formal education. She was an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, where her niece studied Modern History. A portrait of her by Edward Halliday hangs in the Somerville College Library.

See also

*List of political families * History of Indian foreign relations


Further reading

* Ankit, Rakesh. "''Between Vanity and Sensitiveness'': Indo–British Relations During Vijayalakshmi Pandit's High-Commissionership (1954–61)". ''Contemporary British History'' 30:1 (2016): 20–39. . *

External links

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Pandit, Vijaya Lakshmi Category:1900 births Category:1990 deaths Category:1st Lok Sabha members Category:20th-century Indian women politicians Category:3rd Lok Sabha members Category:4th Lok Sabha members Category:Ambassadors of India to Ireland Category:Ambassadors of India to Mexico Category:Ambassadors of India to Spain Category:Ambassadors of India to the Soviet Union Category:Ambassadors of India to the United States Category:Fellows of Somerville College, Oxford Category:Governors of Maharashtra Category:High Commissioners of India to the United Kingdom Category:Indian Hindus Category:Indian women diplomats Category:Kashmiri people Category:Lok Sabha members from Uttar Pradesh Category:Nehru–Gandhi family Category:People from Allahabad district Category:Permanent Representatives of India to the United Nations Category:Politicians from Allahabad Category:Politicians from Dehradun Category:Politicians from Lucknow Category:Presidents of the United Nations General Assembly Category:Prisoners and detainees of British India Category:Recipients of the Padma Vibhushan in civil service Category:Women in Maharashtra politics Category:Women in Uttar Pradesh politics Category:Women members of the Lok Sabha Category:Women state cabinet ministers of India Category:Women state governors of India Category:Women ambassadors