Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) was an Indian diplomat and politician, the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru,[2] the aunt of Indira Gandhi and the grand-aunt of Rajiv Gandhi, each of whom served as 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 USA 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.[3]

Personal life

Vijaya Lakshmi's father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), a wealthy barrister who belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community,[4] 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 Brahmin family settled in Lahore,[5] 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) became a noted writer and authored several books on their brother.

In 1921 she was married to Ranjit Sitaram Pandit (1893-1944), a successful Maharashtrian barrister from Kathiawad and classical scholar who translated Kalhana's epic history Rajatarangini into English from Sanskritby motilal nehru. 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. She died in the year 1990. Her daughter chandralekha was married to Ashok mehta and have three children. Her second daughter Nayantara Sahgal, who later settled in her mother's house in Dehradun, is a well-known novelist. She was married to Gautam Sahgal and has a daughter, Gita Sahgal. Nayantara married E.N Mangat Rai after the death of Gautam. Her third daughter was Rita who was married to Avatar krishna Dhar and has two sons including Gopaldhar. She worked in Redcross.

Gita Sahgal, the writer and journalist on issues of feminism, fundamentalism, and racism, director of prize-winning documentary films, and human rights activist, is her granddaughter.

Political career

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit in 1938

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 1939 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[6] (she was inducted as an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in 1978 for this accomplishment[7]).

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 her niece, Indira Gandhi's Prime Minister years specially after Indira 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.[8] She came out of retirement in 1977 to campaign against Indira Gandhi and helped the Janata Dal win the 1977 election.[9] She was reported to have considered running for the presidency, but Neelam Sanjiva Reddy eventually ran and won the election unopposed.[10]

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.[11]

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  2. ^ President of 62nd session, General Assembly of United Nations. "Vijay Lakshmi Pandit (India)". Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Rakesh Ankit, "Between Vanity and Sensitiveness: Indo–British Relations During Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s High-Commissionership (1954–61)." Contemporary British History 30.1 (2016): 20-39.
  4. ^ Moraes, 2008 & 4.
  5. ^ Zakaria, Rafiq A Study of Nehru, Times of India Press, 1960, p. 22
  6. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, online. "Vijay Lakshmi Pandit". Retrieved 2 July 2012. 
  7. ^ "Alpha Kappa Alpha 1978". Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  8. ^ Indira Gandhi's Aunt Says She Is 'Profoundly Troubled' at Direction India Is Taking, NY Times, 31 October 1976
  9. ^ Sister Burnishes Nehru's Image, Lest India Forget, NY Times, 22 May 1989
  10. ^ Nehru's Sister Campaigning for Presidency of India, NY Times,
  11. ^ Batori (2015-12-10). "Nayantara Sahgal delivers 6th K P Singh Memorial Lecture". Batori. Batori.in. Retrieved 2015-12-10. 

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, major scholarly stify
  • Gupta, Indra. India’s 50 Most Illustrious Women. ISBN 81-88086-19-3. 

External links

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