Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) was an Indian diplomat and politician, the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru,the aunt of Indira Gandhi and the grand-aunt of Rajiv Gandhi, each of whom served as Prime Minister of India.
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 Brahmin 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) became a noted writer and authored several books on their brother
In 1921 she married Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, a successful Maharashtrian barrister from Kathiawad and classical scholar who translated Kalhana’s epic history Rajatarangini into English from Sanskrit. He was arrested for his support of Indian independence and died in Lucknow prison jail 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 Nayantara Sahgal, who later settled in her mother’s house in Dehradun, is a well-known novelist.
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.
She was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post. 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(she was inducted as an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in 1978 for this accomplishment
In India, she served as governor of Maharashtra from 1962 to 1964, after which she was elected to the Indian Lok Sabha from Phulpur, her brother’s former constituency from 1964 to 1968. Pandit was a harsh critic of her niece, Indira Gandhi, after she became Prime Minister in 1966. 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 Dal win the 1989 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