TODAY -

Bob Khathing : The man who won Tawang
Source: The Sangai Express / Oinam Sunil (TNN)

Imphal, November 18 2012: He is a hero forgotten by his own countrymen.

But Ralengnao (Bob) Khathing, an army officer from Manipur who joined the administrative services and went on to become India's first ambassador to Myanmar, played an important role in the history of India by bringing Tawang under New Delhi's control.

Many in Arunachal Pradesh claim it was "Khathing sahib" who brought Tawang under the Indian administration.

"Khathing is the first Indian officer to have hoisted the Tricolour there in 1951, four years after Independence," saysDorjee Khandu Thongdok, a former Arunachal minister who has written a book on the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

"India and China had agreed in principle to determine the boundary on the basis of the watershed.

In other words, areas where rivers flowed from South to North would be Tibet, while areas where rivers flowed from North to South would be India.

As the Sela river flows from the South to the North, the Indian government initially presumed Tawang was a part of Tibet.

But when the Survey of India found the Sela flowing back into India through Bhutan, Khathing acted quickly to establish an Indian post in Tawang," says Thongdok.

The entire Tawang area south of the Sela Pass was under a vague Tibetan administration till 1950.In 1951, Khathing made the Tawang expedition without the nod of the Union external affairs ministry, which controlled North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA).

He had by then left the Army to join the administrative services and was posted in NEFA.

Reports quoting Khathing say that during the autumn of 1950, he was summoned by the then Assam governor, Jairamdas Daulatram, who gave him a secret file with orders to bring Tawang under the Indian control.

He made the expedition in January 1951 along with 200 Assam Rifles soldiers.

He was accompanied by Captain Hem Bahadur Limbu of the Assam Rifles and a medical officer from the Army, Captain Modiero.

The expedition ended in the second week of February.

According to a book by Neeru Nanda, an IAS officer who was once posted in Tawang, Khathing was greeted warmly by representatives of the Tawang monastery when he told them of the Indian government's intention to establish a permanent office there.

A few months after this, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) landed in Lhasa, Tibet.

When the Sino-Indian war broke out in October 1962, Tawang fell into the hands of Chinese PLA within few days.

Indian jawans fought the invaders till the middle of November 1962 defending Bomdila, then the headquarters of Kameng frontier division.

In fact, Bomdila, which had come into existence 10 years earlier, was raised by Khathing when he was the assistant political officer of Kameng, from a forest area on Thong Ja Mountain at 8500 feet.

"Khathing stayed in tents for almost two years to raise the town," says R K Nimai Singh, secretary to the governor of Manipur and a close family friend of Khathing.

Dorejee Tsering, a 63 years old Bomdila resident, said Khathing's administrative skills and courageous move are still talked about in the Tawang-Bomdila-Tenga areas of Arunachal Pradesh.

His strategic thinking was evident from the difficulty the Chinese PLA faced while capturing Bomdila.

It took the Chinese almost a month to accomplish this task.

A place in Bomdila is also called Khathing Point.

Born in Ukhrul district of Manipur in 1912, Khathing was from the Tangkhul Naga tribe in the state.

He was commissioned into the British Indian Army in 1941 and inducted into the Indian Frontier Administrative Service in 1951.Major Khathing fought in World War II as a part of the erstwhile 9/11 Hyderabad Regiment, and was awarded the Military Cross and the Order of British Empire for his bravery.

"In 1947, when Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh of Manipur installed an interim government while bringing in a democratic constitution in Manipur, Khathing's close friend and the king's brother, Maharajkumar P B Singh, made him the minister of forests and hill affairs," says N Joykumar Singh, a history professor in Manipur University.

Khathing also won the first Manipur assembly election held in 1948 and continued to be minister under chief minister Maharajkumar PB Singh.

After the merger of Manipur into India in October 1949, Khathing left Imphal to join the administrative services.

He later became chief secretary of Nagaland, was conferred the Padma Shri for his contribution in NEFA, and went on to serve the first Indian ambassador to Myanmar in 1972 .

Though Tawang and Bomdila still acknowledge Khathing's contribution, his own state of Manipur has forgotten him.

"Even in his native place Ukhrul, Khathing is hardly remembered," says Nimai Singh.


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