Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Pandit, Vijaya Lakshmi (1900–1990)

Indian nationalist and diplomat, sister of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and one of the world's leading women in public life. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was born Swraup Rani Nehru in Allahabad, India, on 18 August 1900. Her father, Motilal Nehru, was a wealthy lawyer and well-known political figure. Educated at home by English tutors, she became active in India's freedom movement at a young age and was imprisoned on three separate occasions by the colonial British government. In 1921 she married Ranjit Sitaram Pandit and changed her name after her marriage to Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. Her husband died in 1944.

During 1937–1939 and again in 1946–1947, Pandit became a member of the Legislative Assembly and minister for local self-government and public health in the United Provinces, the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post. She was also a member of the Indian parliament from 1964 to 1968.

Pandit's career as a diplomat began when she canvassed international support for India's independence at the 1945 San Francisco organizing conference for the United Nations (UN). She led the Indian delegation during the 1946–1948 and 1952 UN General Assembly sessions and in 1953 was elected president of the General Assembly's eighth session, the first woman to hold that position. Pandit's successful effort during the 1946 UN session to pass a resolution condemning apartheid in South Africa led the United States to suspect India of pro-Soviet leanings, coloring U.S. perceptions of India during the Cold War. Pandit served as India's ambassador to the Soviet Union (1947–1949) and concurrently to the United States and Mexico (1949–1951). She was also Indian high commissioner to the United Kingdom and to Ireland (1954–1961).

Returning to domestic politics in India, Pandit served as governor of the state of Maharashtra during 1962–1964 and later as a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament. She retired from active public life in 1968 but returned in 1977 to campaign against the undemocratic rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her niece. Pandit died in Dehra Dun on 1 December 1990.

Appu K. Soman


Further Reading
Gill, S. S. The Dynasty: A Political Biography of the Premier Ruling Family of Modern India. New Delhi: HarperCollins, 1996.; Pandit, Vijaya Lakshmi. The Scope of Happiness: A Personal Memoir. New York: Crown, 1979.
 

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