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SATINDER LAMBAH - SATTI: AN OUTSTANDING DIPLOMAT

Satinder Lambah - Satti, was an outstanding diplomat, an accomplished problem solver, who understood the internal and external dynamics of an ever changing global foreign policies. He was endowed with a sterling character, a self – effacing and loyal colleague.

He faced his prolonged and debilitating illness with uncommon cheerfulness and exemplary stoicism. I used to telephone Satti and Nina very frequently. Nima looked after Satti with unsurpassable love and devotion.

I first met him in Islamabad in July 1980. I had taken over as Head of Mission. Satti was number two. For Indian diplomats a posting to Pakistan is both a prize and a problem. I soon realized that Satti’s comprehension of the complexities of IndoPak relations was most impressive. I, after a short time began to respect his expertise and judgement.

It is not easy for Indian diplomats to have intimate personal relations with most of their Pakistani counter parts. Satti was an exception. His contacts in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi were of immense value to me. After six months I said to myself, “When in doubt, do as Satti does.” I did not ever regret this decision of mine.

The scene now takes a dramatic turn. In 1983 March New Delhi hosted the Seventh Summit of Non-Aligned Countries. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the dismay of some of my senior colleagues appointed me Secretary General. She herself was to take over the Presidentship of the Movement from President Castro at the Summit.

At the opening session I sat next to President Castro on the podium. Shrimati Gandhi sat with the Indian Delegation. Castro was to hand over the Presidentship to her at the afternoon session.

Before the NAM Summit I had spoken to the P.M that I needed a Deputy to assist me. “Whom do you have in mind?” She asked. I mentioned Satti Lambha’s name. “I have never met him, but I leave the decision to you.”

he first day, Satti came running to me. “Sir, we have a hell of a problem on our hands.” “What is it?”, I enquired. Satti said that P.L.O leader Yasser Arafat had decided to leave New Delhi immediately. “Why” I asked, duly perturbed. Satti said Arafat felt insulted at the opening session because that…..the King of Jordon had been asked to speak before him.

I immediately telephoned the PM telling her of Arafat’s threat. “Please come to Vigyan Bhawan and also bring President Castro with you.” I said to her. She told me she would be there in fifteen minutes and also ask Castro to come with her. I briefed both. If I remember rightly, Castro had already contacted Arafat asked him to come to Vigyan Bhawan.

The conversation between Castro and Arafat, I recall vividly.

Castro to Arafat: “Are you a friend of Indira Gandhi?”

Arafat: “Friend, Friend, she is my elder sister.”

Castro: “Then behave like her younger brother. Cancel your flight and come to the afternoon session.”

Castro had his way. A crest fallen. Arafat attended the afternoon and subsequent sessions.

What followed was even more alarming. I think I have never written about this episode before. Our intelligence people sent word to me that a very senior member of the Cuban delegation was carrying a pistol in his pocket. The Cuban delegation was sitting in the front row. I whispered to Mrs. Gandhi. She smiled, “I don’t think he will use it.”

In the recess I got hold of Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the Vice President of Cuba and told him about the Cuban delegate with a pistol. Carlos was a wise man. “There have been nine attempts on Fidel’s life. We have to protect him.” He added, “I notice you security arrangements are very lax.” I said, “We have no security problems. The Prime Minister has one escort car and an armed security man sitting next to the driver.” Eighteen months later Smt. Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

For a long time Maharashtra was among the best governed states in India. Alas! In the last three weeks the country has been witnessing gross political indiscipline and horse trading there. Bala Sahib Thackeray’s spirit in the heavens must be in genuine agony. Some political cleansing is urgently required.

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

K NATWAR SINGH The author is Former Minister of External Affairs of India

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