Maneka Gandhi was born on 26 August 1956 in Delhi and educated at the prestigious Lawrence School, Sanawar. She is the widow of Sanjay Gandhi, the son of Indira Gandhi. A former model and editor of Surya India magazine, Ms. Gandhi entered politics in 1982 after her husband's death. After Sanjay's death in an aircrash relations broke down between Maneka and the Nehru-Gandhi family. In a public spat covered by the media Maneka stormed out of the Prime Minister's residence with her son Varun. The next decade she joined various parties opposed to the Congress and tried to stake her own claim to what she perceived as Sanjay's legacy.
She formed the Sanjay Vichar Manch in 1983 and joined the Janata Dal in 1988. She was the general secretary of JD 1988-1989. She served as Minister of the Environment from 1989 to 1991 in the cabinet of V.P. Singh.
Maneka is an environmentalist who mainstreamed the issue of animal rights in India. She was appointed chairwoman of the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA). Under her direction, unannounced inspections of laboratories where animals are used for scientific research were conducted, and abominable conditions and cruelty were documented and exposed. The CPCSEA imposed restrictions that brought some of the abuse to a stop. Political upheaval caused by vested interests eventually forced her to resign from the position.
In 1996 and 1998, she was reelected to the Lok Sabha as an independent member from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh and served on a number of BJP led governments as Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment. In December 2001 she converted Sanjay Vichar Manch into a political party, Shakti Dal. In the 2004 elections she formally contested on the BJP ticket. Maneka and Varun Gandhi's presence on the BJP remains a source of embarrassment to the Congress Party led by the other branch of the Nehru-Gandhi's. In the 2004 election campaign Varun's criticism of his aunt Sonia Gandhi made headlines.