SATINDER KUMAR LAMBAH, the Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, faced “one of the most difficult days” of his career when the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was destroyed by workers of Hindutva organisations in December 1992. The storied diplomat, much loved and respected in Pakistan, would have become persona non grata had it not been for Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, and a close friend of Lambah’s. However, what stands out today is Lambah’s response to the criticism in Pakistan of India’s treatment of Muslims after the demolition.
Lambah had several conversations with journalists and other important Pakistanis, highlighting the “outstanding contribution” of minorities in India, according to his memoir, In Pursuit of Peace: India-Pakistan Relations Under Six Prime Ministers. In one interaction, which included former senior Pakistani military personnel, Lambah emphasised that during the 1971 Bangladesh war, Sam Manekshaw, a Parsi, was the Indian Army’s chief; Jagjit Singh Aurora, a Sikh, was leading the force’s eastern command; and JFR Jacob, a Jew, was the command’s chief of staff. “This, I added, was not by design but the result of the normal functioning of the Indian Army, a matter of pride for every Indian,” Lambah writes.
Even at the political level, the foreign minister was a Sikh (Sardar Swaran Singh), the defence minister was a leader of the Harijan community (Jagjivan Ram) and the overall leadership was under a woman (Indira Gandhi). This appealed to thinking Pakistanis. One commented that while they were aware that Muslims had occupied top posts in the country, they were nonetheless impressed that a Muslim held the sensitive position as chief of air staff earlier from 1979–81. I responded this was a normal occurrence which did not surprise us, as it did our friends in Pakistan.