Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit 1965b.jpg
Pandit in the Netherlands, 1965
8th President of the United Nations General Assembly
In office
15 September 1953 – 21 September 1954[1]
Preceded byLester B. Pearson
Succeeded byEelco N. van Kleffens
6th Governor of Maharashtra
In office
28 November 1962 – 18 October 1964
Chief MinisterMarotrao Kannamwar
P. K. Sawant
Vasantrao Naik
Preceded byP. Subbarayan
Succeeded byP. V. Cherian
Member of parliament, Lok Sabha
In office
Preceded byJawaharlal Nehru
Succeeded byV. P. Singh
Personal details
Swarup Nehru

(1900-08-18)18 August 1900
Allahabad, North West Provinces, British India

present day

Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India
Died1 December 1990(1990-12-01) (aged 90)
Dehradun, Uttar Pradesh, India
(present-day Uttarakhand)
Political partyIndian National Congress
(m. 1921; died 1944)
Children3, including Nayantara Sahgal
Parent(s)Pandit Motilal Nehru
Swarup Rani Nehru
RelativesSee Nehru–Gandhi family

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (née Swarup Nehru;[2] 18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) was an Indian diplomat and politician who was the 6th Governor of Maharashtra from 1962 to 1964 and 8th President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1953 to 1954, the first woman appointed to either post. 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.[3]

Personal life

Vijaya Lakshmi's (born Swarup)[2] 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 Pandit 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. 1907-1967) became a noted writer and authored several books on their brother.

In 1919, she secretly married Syud Hossain, a Muslim journalist and later first Indian Ambassador to Cairo,[6] but Mahatma Gandhi and, family members like Pandit Nehru, separated the couple.[7][8][9][10][11]

In 1921, she was married to Ranjit Sitaram Pandit (1921–1944), 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.

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

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit in 1938
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit in 1938
Pandit as a Chief Guest at The Doon School, Dehradun, in the 1960s.
Pandit as a Chief Guest at The Doon School, Dehradun, in the 1960s.

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[12] (she was inducted as an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 1978 for this accomplishment[13]).

Hon. Members that Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit has resigned her seat in the House with effect from 17 December 1954.[14]

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.[15] She came out of retirement in 1977 to campaign against Indira Gandhi and helped the Janata Party win the 1977 election.[16] She was reported to have considered running for the presidency, but Neelam Sanjiva Reddy eventually ran and won the election unopposed.[17]

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).


Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit along with Indira Gandhi and Nehru visit Albert Einstein
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit along with Indira Gandhi and Nehru visit Albert Einstein

She was the member of Aligarh Muslim University Executive Council.[18]

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.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "Presidents of the General Assembly | United Nations". Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  2. ^ a b Nehru, Krishna (1945). With No Regrets: An Autobiography. New York: The John Day Company.
  3. ^ Rakesh Ankit, "Between Vanity and Sensitiveness: Indo–British Relations During Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s High-Commissioner (1954–61)." Contemporary British History 30.1 (2016): 20–39.
  4. ^ Moraes 2008, p. 4.
  5. ^ Zakaria, Rafiq A Study of Nehru, Times of India Press, 1960, p. 22
  6. ^ "Embassy of India, Cairo, Egypt : List of former Ambassadors". Retrieved 30 October 2021.
  7. ^ Kumar, Anuj (3 August 2016). "View from the other side". The Hindu. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  8. ^ Reddy, Sheela (17 March 2017). "Excerpt: Mr and Mrs Jinnah". mint.
  9. ^ MERCHANT, MINHAZ (31 March 2017). "Mrs Jinnah's love jihad in Mahatma Gandhi's time".
  10. ^ "Syud Hossain: A Fascinating Footnote from India's Freedom Struggle". The Wire. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
  11. ^ "Syud Hossain: A forgotten ambassador brought back to life". South Asia Monitor. Retrieved 30 October 2021.
  12. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, online. "Vijay Lakshmi Pandit". Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  13. ^ "Alpha Kappa Alpha 1978". Archived from the original on 26 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  14. ^ Lok Sabha Debates Vol VII, 1954 (PDF). Lok Sabha Secretariat New Delhi. 18 December 1954. p. 12.
  15. ^ Indira Gandhi's Aunt Says She Is 'Profoundly Troubled' at Direction India Is Taking, NY Times, 31 October 1976
  16. ^ Sister Burnishes Nehru's Image, Lest India Forget, NY Times, 22 May 1989
  17. ^ Nehru's Sister Campaigning for Presidency of India, NY Times,
  18. ^ Batori (10 December 2015). "Nayantara Sahgal delivers 6th K P Singh Memorial Lecture". Batori. Archived from the original on 11 December 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2015.

Further reading