Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) was an Indian diplomat and politician who was elected as the first female 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.[2]

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit 1965b.jpg
Pandit in the Netherlands, 1965
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
In office
Preceded byJawaharlal Nehru
Succeeded byV. P. Singh
Personal details
Born(1900-08-18)18 August 1900
Allahabad, North-Western Provinces, British India
Died1 December 1990(1990-12-01) (aged 90)
Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India
Political partyIndian National Congress
Spouse(s)Ranjit Sitaram Pandit
RelativesJawaharlal Nehru (Brother)

Personal lifeEdit

Vijaya Lakshmi's father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), a wealthy barrister who belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community,[3] 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,[4] 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.

She had a secret marriage[when?] with a Muslim journalist named Syud Hossain, but her family separated the couple.[5][6][7]

”They were simply besotted with each other. Vijaya was only nineteen and Hossain thirty- one. This is the most hushed up high- profile love affair in British India of that time. Here the readers must bear in mind that this incident took place a good hundred years ago, and should be viewed in the peculiar context of the times. In this regard, I have consulted information from authoritative sources and further validated it from the last surviving senior most family member of Hossain, who is a credible resource. In a nutshell, this is what had actually taken place. One day a distraught Vijaya suddenly showed up at Hossain's house in Allahabad, and tearfully broke the news that her parents were about to get her married off to a barrister named Ranjit Pandit. A near hysterical Vijaya implored Hossain to do something urgently. The atmosphere was charged with high emotion. In the heat of the moment, a perplexed but sincere Hossain hurriedly fetched a Maulvi and solemnized their marriage, in accordance with Muslim law. It would be his undoing, the making of a great tragedy! At the spur of the moment it had not occurred to the young man what he would be up against later on. For those days, it was a shocking societal scandal! At that time Motilal Nehru was in Lahore attending a meeting of the Congress party. On learning of the marriage, a greatly upset Jawharlal Nehru and his mother dashed off to see Mahatma Gandhi who was then visiting Allahabad for his immediate intervention and help (re. An Indefatigable Crusader: Dr Syud Hossain by Waqar A Khan).

Gandhi and Nehru successfully separated the loving couple.

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. She died in the year 1990.

Her daughter Chandralekha was married to Ashok Mehta and has three children. Her second daughter Nayantara Sahgal, is a well-known novelist. She was married to Gautam Sahgal and had a daughter, Gita Sahgal. Nayantara married E. N. Mangat Rai after Gautam's death. 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 careerEdit

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 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[8] (she was inducted as an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 1978 for this accomplishment[9]).

Hon. Members that Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit has resigned her seat in the House with effect from 17 December 1954 [10]

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.[11] She came out of retirement in 1977 to campaign against Indira Gandhi and helped the Janata Party win the 1977 election.[12] She was reported to have considered running for the presidency, but Neelam Sanjiva Reddy eventually ran and won the election unopposed.[13]

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.[14] 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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Moraes 2008, p. 4.
  4. ^ Zakaria, Rafiq A Study of Nehru, Times of India Press, 1960, p. 22
  5. ^ Kumar, Anuj (3 August 2016). "View from the other side". The Hindu. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, online. "Vijay Lakshmi Pandit". Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  9. ^ "Alpha Kappa Alpha 1978". Archived from the original on 26 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  10. ^ Page 12
  11. ^ Indira Gandhi's Aunt Says She Is 'Profoundly Troubled' at Direction India Is Taking, NY Times, 31 October 1976
  12. ^ Sister Burnishes Nehru's Image, Lest India Forget, NY Times, 22 May 1989
  13. ^ Nehru's Sister Campaigning for Presidency of India, NY Times,
  14. ^ 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 readingEdit

  • 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. doi:10.1080/13619462.2015.1049262.
  • Gupta, Indra (2004). India's 50 Most Illustrious Women. New Delhi: Icon Publications. ISBN 8188086193. OCLC 858639936.

External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Asaf Ali
Indian Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Gaganvihari Lallubhai Mehta
Preceded by
Lester B. Pearson
President of the United Nations General Assembly
Succeeded by
Eelco N. van Kleffens
Preceded by
Ambassador of India to the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Preceded by
B. G. Kher
High Commission of India to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
M. C. Chagla
Preceded by
P. Subbarayan
Governor of Maharashtra
Succeeded by
P. V. Cherian