She was the daughter of Motilal Nehru and the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, eventually the first Prime Minister of free India. She was educated by private governesses and tutors, after which she studied at the University of Allahabad and abroad. In 1921 she married Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, a fellow Congressman. As with the rest of her family, she was a staunch follower of Gandhi, and was imprisoned several times in the 1930s and 1940s along with her husband, father-in-law, and other members of her family.
Pandit was the first Indian women to hold a cabinet post. In 1937 she was elected to the provincial legislature of the United Provinces and designated minister of local self-government and public health. She held the latter post until 1939 and again from 1946 to 1947.
After independence, she entered the diplomatic service and was India's ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1947-49, and to the US and Mexico from 1949-51. She also headed the Indian delegation to the United Nations from 1946-68 and in '52. In 1953 she was elected President of the UN General Assembly, the first ( and to date, one of only two) women to serve in this position. She also served as Indian High Commissioner to Great Britain and ambassador to Ireland (1955-61) and to Spain (58-61).
In 1961 Ms. Pandit returned to India, and became Governor of Maharastra in '62. After her term ended in '64, she again won a seat in the Indian Lok Sabha, where she sat from '64 to '68.
In 1966 her niece, Indira Gandhi (Jawarlal Nehru's daughter) became Prime Minister of India. Judicial rulings threatened her power, and she declared a state of Emergency in 1975 which restricted freedom of the press and other democratic institutions. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was deeply opposed to the Emergency, left the Indira-dominated Congress and joined the Janata party, where she campaigned against Indira Gandhi. Indira's Congress was soundly defeated in March 1977. In 1979 she was appointed the Indian representative to the UN Human Rights Commission, after which she retired from public life.
Education is not merely a means for earning a living or an instrument for the acquisition of wealth. It is an initiation into life of spirit, a training of the human soul in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue.
The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit died in 1990.
Her writings include The Evolution of India (1958) and The Scope of Happiness: A Personal Memoir (1979). See also Prison and Chocolate Cake, a memoir by her daughter Nayantara Sahgal. Madame Ambassador: The life of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, by Anne Guthrie. (1962).