Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was the first female President of United Nations General Assembly. She was an Indian diplomat and politician. Moreover to her credit, she was the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. She was India`s first woman Cabinet Minister and the first woman to lead a delegation to U.N. She was the world`s first woman ambassador who served three prized ambassadorial posts at Moscow, Washington and London. She considered Indian National Congress as her own family as she was born into it. According to her, politics is a means of social and economic reform, which strengthens human rights and empowers women. She was against monopoly of power by one family.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was born on 18 August 1900 at Allahabad. She was the daughter of Motilal Nehru and Swarup Rani Nehru. Her father had great admiration for the west and took the best he knew from it. According to him, “Western” meant discipline, rationality, a sense of adventure and a practical approach to problems. He was a rebel who was against caste barriers and outdated customs. He was not at all worried to throw away anything that he did not consider wise. He did not fear criticisms. He even sent his son, Jawaharlal Nehru to Cambridge to study. Her mother`s life revolved around her family and her religious observances. She did not speak English but she fulfilled her duties and accompanied her husband to English homes. Her own home was the centre of the contrasts present in the country. In her home, tradition and modernity co-existed harmoniously.
In her autobiography, The Scope of Happiness, Vijayalakshmi describes her childhood as a period of contradictions and contrasts and as a period of transition from age-old traditions and prejudices to new ways of living and thinking. Motilal`s powerful molding influence was greatest on Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who, of his three children, resembled him in her temperament, her zest for life and her involvement with other human beings. At a very early age Vijayalakshmi was very much interested in politics. At sixteen she attended her first political meeting, organized by her cousin Rameshwari Nehru at Manyo Hall of Allahabad University to assemble women in a protest against the treatment of Indian labourers in South Africa. At sixteen, she wished to join Annie Besant`s Home Rule League but being too young, she was allowed to enroll only as a volunteer. She was married to Ranjit Pandit, who was a cultured litterateur, aristocrat, and barrister from Kathiawar. They married on May 10, 1921, when she was about 21 years old. Three children were born to her- Chandra Lekha, Nayantara and Rita Vitasta
In her mid thirties she was elected to the Allahabad Municipal Board. She was arrested and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment for presiding over a crowded public meeting where the Independence pledge was taken. This was the first of her three imprisonments. When the Indian National Congress took part in provincial elections she and her husband, Ranjit S. Pandit, were elected to the U.P. Assembly. Vijayalakshmi was appointed as the Minister for Health and Local Self-Government.
For two continuous years she was the President of the All-India Women`s Conference. Tragedy struck her with the death of her husband after his last imprisonment in 1944. As he had left no will, she was left virtually penniless, as Hindu widows had no inheritance rights. His brother claimed all his investments and earning and made everything in his custody. Shaken by her grief and without knowledge of future and with no source of support from her brother, as he was imprisoned she left for Bengal to work, where cholera had spread in the wake of famine, and to set up a Save the Children Fund. During this time, Gandhiji was released from jail and he asked her to go to America to speak about actual conditions in India. This became possible when Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru(President of the Indian Council for World Affairs) included her in an Indian delegation to the Pacific Relations Conference to be held in Virginia.
She became the member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution. After Independence she was twice elected to Parliament and she led India`s first Goodwill Mission to China and served as Governor of Maharashtra. She resigned her post to stand for election to Parliament from the constituency of Phulpur that was vacated as a result of Jawaharlal Nehru`s death. Four years later, she resigned from the Lok Sabha as it was difficult for her to serve her party under Indira Gandhi. During the Emergency, she stepped out of retirement to speak out against dictatorship and dynasty. She could not find a place in the power structure under Indira Gandhi.
She collected more than eight honorary degrees from the world universities besides those offered to her in India. She celebrated her ninetieth birthday by inviting her family members, (who were at the time both in government and in the opposition) to lunch in Dehra Dun. All members came regardless of political difference. It was a grand function and it happened to be her farewell as she died two months later. It was Rajiv Gandhi, who personally supervised her last rites. Vijayalakshmi used to say that none should mourn her death as she had lived long. Her family members took her word to heart and at Sangam instead of mourning her death they celebrated her life. Her life was actually an example, which all humanity could follow. She had great will power; she was courageous in her agonizing situations and led her life triumphantly. Till the end she was fully involved in her life. This great personality breathed her last on 1 December 1990 at Dehra Dun.