The active political arena is still dominated by men. Very few women have been able to gain a strong place in the active political arena with their skills. Among them, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit is one such woman. Despite being a member of the famous Nehru family, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit faced many challenges in the political arena. She secured her place strongly in a patriarchal society. She used her power very consciously. Before independence and post-independence period, Indian diplomat, politician, active activist of the Indian independence movement, Pandit held national and international high positions. It is a matter of success and pride for the entire women’s society. Pandit was not only the first woman to hold a political position in pre-independent India, but also the first woman to become a president of the United Nations General Council. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, an unwavering believer in India’s independence, openly condemned colonialism and imperialism.
Biography of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
|Name||Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit|
|Date of Birth||August 18, 1900|
|Place of Birth||Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh|
|Father’s Name||Motilal Nehru|
|Mother’s Name||Swarup Rani Nehru|
Early and Personal Life of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was born on August 18, 1900, in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Her father’s name is Motilal Nehru and mother’s name is Swarupa Rani Nehru. Her father, Motilal Nehru a wealthy barrister belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community and served twice as the President of the Indian National Congress during the Independence struggle. It is to be noted that the birth name of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was Swarup Kumari Nehru. In 1919, she secretly married Syud Hussain, a Muslim journalist and later first Indian Ambassador to Cairo, but Mahatma Gandhi and family members like Jawaharlal Nehru, separated the couple. In 1921, Swarup Kumari Nehru married Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, a successful barrister who had studied abroad at Kathiawar, Gujrat. Since then she changed her name and became known in the society as Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.
Importantly, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit did not receive any formal education but instead acquired knowledge on various subjects with the help of a home teacher. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit’s father Motilal Nehru was a lawyer by profession. Motilal Nehru, on the other hand, played an important role in India’s freedom struggle. Forming the party in the Indian National Congress was Motilal Nehru’s unparalleled contribution. Motilal Nehru served as president of the Indian National Congress for two years. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, was the brother of V. L. Pandit. So, in a healthy social environment, in a political environment, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was socialized. Because of which she was attracted to active politics at a very young age.
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At the age of 16, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit participated in a political meeting held at Manyo Hall of Allahabad University under the leadership of Rameshwari Nehru to protest against the injustice done to Indian workers in South Africa. Apart from this, Pandit at that time expressed her desire to join the Home Rule League established under the leadership of Annie Besant, but due to her young age, V. L. Pandit was allowed to perform the duties only as a volunteer.
Influenced by the ideals of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit also actively participated in India’s freedom struggle. It is to be noted that after participation in the India’s freedom struggle, she also had to live in prison. She lived in prison for three times in 1932-33, 1940, 1942-43.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit formally started her political career by being elected to the Allahabad Municipal Board in 1934. Subsequently, in 1937, Pandit won the election of the Provincial Legislature Party of the United Provinces. During this time, she became the first woman to hold the cabinet post in pre-independent India by taking over as the Minister of Local Self-Government and Public Health.
It is to be noted that Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, among other Congress ministers, resigned subsequently in protest against the Viceroy’s decision to declare war on Germany without India’s consent in 1940.
From 1941 to 1943, Pandit served as president of the All-India Women’s Conference. As president of the All-India Women’s Conference, Pandit took a variety of measures for gender rights, equality and women’s welfare.
Significantly, Pandit, who was imprisoned for participating in the Quit India Movement initiated under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi in 1942, participated in the Pacific Relations Conference in 1945 along with other leaders of the freedom struggle H.N. Kunzru and B. Shiva Rao after her release from prison. Held in Virginia, this conference discussed various problems and challenges faced by the whole world in the post-World War II period.
V. L. Pandit made various arguments for colonies such as India as a non-governmental representative at the 1945 Conference on the United Nations Charter held in San Francisco. It is to be noted that she referred to British Indian delegates as British stooges, who had no idea about the sufferings of the colonies.
It may be recalled that V.L. Pandit was elected to the Constituent Assembly from the United Provinces in 1946. After India gained independence in 1947, Pandit joined the diplomatic service. Vijay Lakshmi Pandit was appointed ambassador of the Soviet Union in 1947 and served till 1949. She was subsequently appointed as India’s ambassador to the United States and Mexico from 1949 to 1951, Ireland from 1955 to 1961, and Spain from 1956 to 1961, she headed the Indian delegation to the United Nations.
Significantly, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was elected as the first woman President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1953. She presided over the eighth session of the UN General Assembly. She was the first woman to be elected president of the Un General Assembly. It is to be noted that Pandit was inducted as an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 1978 for her elevation to this place.
Between 1954 and 1961, Pandit served as India’s high commissioner to the United States. It is to be noted that during the early period of India’s independence, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit had made efforts to change the diplomatic relations between India and the UK.
Pandit served as the Governor of Maharashtra from 1962 to 1964 after her return to India. In 1978, she participated as India’s representative in the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Subsequently, she served as ambassador to England and Ireland.
After the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, brother of V. Lakshmi Pandit in 1964 and the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit contested and won the Lok Sabha elections from Phulpur constituency where Jawaharlal Nehru had contested for 17 years. She served in parliament between 1964 and 1968. V. L. Pandit resigned from the post of Parliament in 1968 due to some reasons.
It may be recalled that V. Lakshmi Pandit had staged a strong protest against his niece and then prime minister Indira Gandhi when the emergency was imposed in 1975. Significantly, Pandit also participated in the election campaign against Indira Gandhi’s decision.
Subsequently, with the sudden demise of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the fifth President of India, V. Lakshmi Pandit filed her nomination for the Presidential battle for the post of President, but eventually Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was elected President.
It is to be noted that V. Lakshmi Pandit retired from active politics in 1970. After retiring she went to Dehradun in the Doon Valley in the Himalayan foothills. She came out of the retirement in 1977 to camapaingnd against Indira Gandhi and helped Janata Party win the 1977 election. Subsequently, in 1979 she also participated in the Un Human Rights Commission as India’s representative. After which she retired from the public life.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit has authored several books. They are – “So I Became a Minister (1939)”, “Prison Days (1946)”, “The Scope of Happiness: A Personal Memoir (1979)”, “The Evolution of India (1979) etc.
Despite possessing this enviable political career, Pandit faced many challenges in her personal life. It is to be noted that after the death of her husband Ranjit Sitaram Pandit in 1944, the life of V. Lakshmi Pandit became somewhat miserable. After his death, Pandit could not inherit her husband’s money. Because they had only three daughters, but they had no sons. For which the heir was inherited only by the brother of her husband.
Significantly, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was a member of the executive council of Aligarh Muslim University even though she did not receive formal education. She was also an Honorary Fellow of The Oxford Somerville College. It is to be noted that a portrait of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit painted by Edward Halide is still hanging in the library of Somerville College.
Death and Conclusion
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who played an important role in Indian politics for decades, passed away on December 1, 1990 in Dehradun.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit is an example of women empowerment. By strengthening her position in national and international politics, she has left a path for future generations and women. As a politician, diplomat, revolutionary with a huge personality who has contributed to social life, V. Lakshmi Pandit is still popular today for her intellectual attitude, hard work and humble behavior. Vijaya Lakshmi’s thinking has relevance even in today’s time.
1. What is the name of the first woman to hold the cabinet post in pre-independent India?
Ans: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was the first woman to hold the cabinet post in pre-independent India. She took over as minister for local self-government and public health in 1937.
2. Who is the first woman to be elected president of the Un General Assembly?
Ans: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was the first woman to be elected president of the Un General Assembly. She was elected president at the eighth session of the Un General Assembly in 1953.
3. What is the real name of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit?
Ans: The real name of V. Lakshmi Pandit is Swaroop Kumari Nehru.
4. How many times was Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was prisoned for participating in India’s freedom movement?
Ans: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit spent her life in captivity thrice in 1932-33, 1940, 1942-43 for participating in the freedom struggle.
5. In which countries did Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit served as ambassador?
Ans: Pandit served as ambassador to the Soviet Union, the United States, Mexico, Ireland, Spain etc.
6. When did Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit protested against Indira Gandhi?
Ans: When the Emergency was imposed in 1975, Pandit had staged a strong protest against her niece and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. At that time, Pandit also participated in the election campaign against Indira Gandhi by opposing this decision of her.
7. How did Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit officially started her political career?
Ans: Pandit formally started her political career by being elected to the Allahabad Municipal Board in 1934.
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