Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (née Swarup Nehru;[2] 18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) was an Indian freedom fighter, diplomat and politician. She served as the 8th President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1953 to 1954, the first woman appointed to this post. She was also the 3rd Governor of Maharashtra from 1962 to 1964. Noted for her participation in the Indian independence movement, she was jailed several times during the movement.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
Pandit in 1938
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
3rd Governor of Maharashtra
In office
28 November 1962 – 18 October 1964
Chief MinisterMarotrao Kannamwar
P. K. Sawant (acting)
Vasantrao Naik
Preceded byP. Subbarayan
Succeeded byP. V. Cherian
Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
In office
Preceded byJawaharlal Nehru
Succeeded byJaneshwar Mishra
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

Hailing from the prominent Nehru-Gandhi political family, her brother Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of independent India, her niece Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India and her grand-nephew Rajiv Gandhi was the sixth and youngest Prime Minister of India. She was sent to London as India's most important diplomat after serving as India'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 India–UK relations.[3]

Early 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.


Pandit in the Netherlands, 1965
Pandit as a Chief Guest at The Doon School, Dehradun, in the 1960s.

She attended the 1916 Congress session that took place in Lucknow. She was impressed by Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant.[6]

In 1920, she spent time in Mahatma Gandhi's ashram close to Ahmedabad. She participated in daily chores including dairy work and spinning. She also worked in the office that used to publish Young India.[6]

Pandit was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post in pre-independent India. In 1936, she stood in general elections and became a member of parliament by 1937 for the constituency of Cawnpore Bilhaur.[7] In 1937, she was elected to the provincial legislature of the United Provinces and was designated minister of local self-government and public health.[8][9] She held the latter post until 1938 and again from 1946 to 1947.[10][11]

She spent significant time in jail for her participation in the Indian independence movement. She was jailed for 18 months from 1931 - 1933. She was jailed again for 6 months in 1940 before getting jailed in 1942 for 7 months over her participation in the Quit India Movement.[12][7] After her release, she helped the victims of the Bengal famine of 1943 and served as president of the Save the Children Fund Committee which rescued poor children from the streets.[7]

Following the death of her husband in 1944, she experienced Indian inheritance laws for Hindu widows and campaigned with All India Women's Conference to bring changes to these laws.[7]

In 1946, she was elected to the Constituent Assembly from the United Provinces.[13]

Following India's independence from British rule in 1947 she entered the diplomatic service and became India's ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1947 to 1949,[14][15] the United States and Mexico from 1949 to 1951,[16][17] Ireland from 1955 to 1961 (during which time she was also the Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom),[18] and Spain from 1956 to 1961.[19] 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[20] (she was inducted as an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 1978 for this accomplishment[21]). That same year she was a candidate for Secretary General of the United Nations.[22]

Hon. Members Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit has resigned her seat in the House with effect from 17 December 1954.[23]

In India, she served as Governor of Maharashtra from 1962 to 1964. She returned as a member of parliament for 1964 to 1968 with her election victory in Phulpur.[7][24] Pandit was a harsh critic of Indira Gandhi's years as prime minister especially after Indira had declared the emergency in 1975.[7]

Pandit retired from active politics after relations between them soured. On retiring, she moved to Dehradun in the Doon Valley in the Himalayan foothills.[25] She came out of retirement in 1977 to campaign against Indira Gandhi and helped the Janata Party win the 1977 election.[26] She was reported to have considered running for the presidency, but Neelam Sanjiva Reddy eventually ran and won the election unopposed.[27]

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).

Personal life


In 1921, she married 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 1990. She was survived by her daughters, Chandralekha and Nayantara Sahgal.


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

She was the member of Aligarh Muslim University Executive Council.[28]

She was an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford, where her niece studied Modern History.[29] A portrait of her by Edward Halliday hangs in the Somerville College Library.[30]

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. ^ a b Smith, B.G. (2008). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Oxford University Press. p. 2-PA406. ISBN 978-0-19-514890-9.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Rappaport, Helen (2001). Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers. ABC-CLIO. p. 507. ISBN 978-1-57607-101-4.
  8. ^ Pandit, Vijaya Lakshmi (1939). "First Person, Singular". So I became a Minister. Allahabad: Kitabistan. pp. 141–143. Retrieved 11 September 2022.
  9. ^ Welcome address from Chairman of Municipal Board, Agra, to Smt. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit honouring her as Minister of Local Self Government and Health, and highlighting the poor civic conditions of Agra (in Hindi). Allahabad: Sainik Press. 1938. Retrieved 12 September 2022 – via Allahabad Museum.
  10. ^ Khan, Abdul Majid (1946). "Lakshmi Resigns". The Great Daughter of India. Lahore: Indian Printing Works. p. 152. Retrieved 12 September 2022.
  11. ^ Pandit, Vijaya Lakshmi (1979). "Interim Government". The Scope of Happiness: A Personal Memoir. New York: Crown Publishers Inc. pp. 200–201, 203, 204–205. ISBN 0-517-53688-9. Retrieved 12 September 2022.
  12. ^ Bhagavan, M. (2013). India and the Quest for One World: The Peacemakers. Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series. Palgrave Macmillan UK. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-137-34983-5.
  13. ^ Pandit, Vijaya Lakshmi (1979). "Interim Government". The Scope of Happiness: A Personal Memoir. New York: Crown Publishers Inc. pp. 225. ISBN 0-517-53688-9. Retrieved 12 September 2022.
  14. ^ "India's Ambassador to Moscow: Mrs. V. L. Pandit's choice certain". The Indian Express. Vol. 15, no. 83. Madras. 7 June 1947. p. 1. Retrieved 11 September 2022.
  15. ^ Appointment of Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit as Ambassador for India in USSR and fixation of her pay and allowance. New Delhi: Department of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations: External Affairs Wing. 1947. p. 11. Retrieved 11 September 2022 – via National Archives of India.
  16. ^ "Woman Ambassador". The Pittsburgh Press. Vol. 65, no. 316. 8 May 1949. p. 33. Retrieved 11 September 2022.
  17. ^ Appointment of Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit as Ambassador in U.S.A. succession to Shri B.Rama Rau I.C.S. and fixation of her pay and allowances. Grant of Joining time to H.E., Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Ambassador of India in USA. Grant of free air passage to Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and her daughter.... New Delhi: Press Information Bureau. 1949. p. 33. Retrieved 11 September 2022 – via National Archives of India.
  18. ^ O'Malley, Kate (2011). "Ireland and India: Post-independence Diplomacy". Irish Studies in International Affairs. 22. Royal Irish Academy: 152–153. doi:10.1353/isia.2011.0004. JSTOR 41413198. Retrieved 12 September 2022 – via JSTOR.
  19. ^ Brittain, Vera (1965). "The Conquest of Britain". Envoy Extraordinary: A Study of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and her contribution to Modern India. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. p. 135. Retrieved 12 September 2022. Spain and India had decided in May 1956 to establish diplomatic relations at Embassy level, and now made her the first woman, and probably the first diplomat, to hold three ambassadorships simultaneously. She visited Madrid to present her credentials on October 30, 1957, and was officially photographed with General Franco.
  20. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, online. "Vijay Lakshmi Pandit". Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  21. ^ "Alpha Kappa Alpha 1978". Archived from the original on 26 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  22. ^ Goodwin, Ralph R., ed. (1979). United Nations Affairs. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954. Vol. 3. Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. p. Document 209.
  23. ^ Lok Sabha Debates Vol VII, 1954 (PDF). Lok Sabha Secretariat New Delhi. 18 December 1954. p. 12.
  24. ^ Malaviya, Padma Kant. P.K. Malaviya analyses election defeat and congratulates Mrs. Vijay Lakshmi on her victory in Phulpur Lok Sabha election. New Delhi. p. 1. Retrieved 12 September 2022 – via National Archives of India.
  25. ^ Indira Gandhi's Aunt Says She Is 'Profoundly Troubled' at Direction India Is Taking, NY Times, 31 October 1976
  26. ^ Sister Burnishes Nehru's Image, Lest India Forget, NY Times, 22 May 1989
  27. ^ Nehru's Sister Campaigning for Presidency of India, NY Times,
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Visit of Shrimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit former Governor of Maharashtra to London to receive the Honorary Degree of of D.C.L. from the Oxford University - Payment of air fare from Bombay to London & back. New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs. 1965. pp. 1–21. Retrieved 11 September 2022 – via National Archives of India.
  30. ^ "Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit". Equality and Diversity Unit, University of Oxford. 11 September 2022.

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. doi:10.1080/13619462.2015.1049262.
  • Gupta, Indra (2004). India's 50 Most Illustrious Women. New Delhi: Icon Publications. ISBN 81-88086-19-3. OCLC 858639936.
  • Menon, Parvathi (2023). "Vijayalakshmi Pandit: Gendering and Racing against the Postcolonial Predicament" in Immi Tallgren (ed.) Portraits of Women in International Law (Oxford University Press, 2023).
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by Indian Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the United Nations General Assembly
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Ambassador of India to the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Preceded by High Commission of India to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Maharashtra
Succeeded by