20 Nov 2011

AN UNSUNG HERO OF NEFA

Sometimes history has unsung heroes whose valour and sacrifice go unnoticed because there was none to record it or publicise it.  Sometimes, rarely, such valour and sacrifice are well known and documented, but it is embarrassing to sing praise, acknowledge or put the spot light of publicity on them. The story of Maj Bob Ranenglao Khathing MC, OBE, of the Indian army, is one such aberration. He was the man who surreptitiously went and annexed Arunachal Pradesh to India back in 1951 J  Like the Henderson Report, the real story of 62 war with China, the story of Maj Khathing remains buried in the Def Sec’s cupboard in spite of parliamentary intervention and RTI.  It remains hidden from public view even after 50 yrs, though Indian Official Secrets act has a lifespan of only 30 yrs. It is politically expedient for the Govt Of India to erase Maj Khathing from all records that show that such a man ever existed. The right person who can corroborate this story is probably the venerable ‘Dalai Lama’, but even he has too much at stake to say anything that embarrasses GOI.

I did not invent this story and I do not know it’s veracity personally because I was only 2 yrs old when it happened. I have simply, and rather shamelessly, reinvented and plagiarised it from a story filed by Yambem Laba , a news paper man from the northeast, because I believe it is true.  It has some relevance to another story that I am writing for you, about a fictional futuristic Sino Indian war, rather long story compared to my other stories on this blog. My ever increasing brood of fans are demanding stories faster than I can write them. Hence this story is being putout to buy myself time to finish my other fictional war story, about the same kind of ‘Dogs Of War’ J

To tell the story of Maj Khathing, and highlight his relevance in Indian history in the immediate aftermath of independence, it is necessary for me to first highlight the circumstances that led to the military defeat of Indian army in the Sino Indian war of 1962. Let me start this story from the British colonial India at the turn of the 20th C.  Here we go.

In 1903, alarmed by the Chinese and Russian influence in Tibet, Col Francis Younghusband of the British army led a military expedition to subdue Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama (predecessor of the current one Tenzin Gyatso ). Thubten ran off to China and took asylum there. It took quite a while, and a lot of manoeuvring, for the British to tame Thubten. In 1914 Henry McMahon, the then British foreign secretary, finally managed to get Thubten’s envoy into Shimla to sign a free trade agreement between Tibet and British India. As part of the agreement, they also signed a treaty demarcating the southern boundary of Tibet. Since the Himalayas were unchartered, unmapped and rather unhappy territory, McMahon did the only thing that was practical and pragmatic. He took a pencil and drew simple line on a map, connecting all the highest peaks, the water shed, the northern slopes of which were to be in Tibet and the southern ones in British India. Even at that time, this line, the watershed, was neither acceptable to man, Yaks, Yeti, 13th Dalai Lama, nor Col Younghusband as a practical, defensible, geopolitical border. However, at that time, this was not considered strategically or militarily important, or an issue, considering the greater cause and benefits to one sided, parochial, British interest in trade and commerce.

The border between British India and Tibet at that time (Shimla agreement in 1914) had three buffer Kingdoms, all of them simple monarchies propped up by treaties with British India. Nepal was ruled by the Ranas, Sikkim by the Chogyals and Bhutan by the Wangchuks. Eastwards from Bhutan lay the large 61,000 sq km stretch of sparsely populated and utterly inhospitable never never land, the barren mountains and jungles beyond any man’s ambition and aspiration. In those days it did not even have a name, at best it was referred to by the British as the ‘Dirang Dzong of Twang’ (it became North East Frontier Agency or NEFA, only in 1954 and Arunachal Pradesh recently in 1986).  

I am told that ‘Dzong’ in Tibetan means a fort. I am also told that in those days such forts had a small military or police contingent of sorts to up keep law and order as also collect taxes in kind, and favours from local women.  The master of such a Dzong was a ‘Dzongpen’, or a magistrate, with selected Lamas who helped administer the territory under the Dzong, called ‘Dirang Dzong’. The Dzongpen of Tawang  owed allegiance to the quasi political and religious leader, the Dalai Lama at Lhasa. Prior to 1951, Aksai Chin, Leh, NEFA (Arunachal) were all Dirang Dzong that were administered by their respective Dzongpen as Tibetan territory with absolutely no allegiance or recognition of Delhi, either British or Indian.  So the relevance of the McMahon line was mostly to do with the border along the northern Aksai Chin and Leh area, and the north eastern NEFA, all of which, tactically speaking, was a non contentious no man’s land during the colonial past. It was the land of the Lamas, Yaks and Yetis, all of them of little interest to the men of the early 20th C.

It became contentious half a century later, around 1950-51, when China occupied Tibet and the 14th (Current) Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso ran off from Lhasa and took political asylum in a newly independent India. A pro Chinese interim govt was installed in Lhasa.  It became necessary for the politically naive, rather new Govt Of India to have a militarily defensible border with the Chinese occupied Tibet, especially keeping in mind India’s then foreign policy of abetment of Tibetan aspirations. The border became a bone of contention around 1958 – 60 period as a result of several clashes between Chinese and Indian army patrols to jockey and occupy mountain passes in the Himlayas that controlled thriving trade route between Tibet and India at several places. To give the Chinese due credit, the then Chinese Premier, Chow En Lai, wrote many letters to Nehru to try and resolve the problems amicably. However, Nehru, though wise and sagacious in so many ways, was besotted by his own rising unpopularity in parliament as well as the political  brinkmanship strategies of the  inflexible and highly autocratic Def Min, VK  Krishna Menon,  who was probably perceived by Nehru as his mentor and saviour. India refused to give any importance to the Chow En Lai letters. Chow En Lai then came to India in 1962 with an unusually large 135 member trade and military delegation, armed with trade concessions, historical  maps  as well as records to prove rightful borders of Tibet (specially Aksai Chin and NEFA). The trade concessions were olive branches sticking out of the barrel of a gun. The GOI  did not notice this. The delegation returned to China empty handed. Krishna Menon ordered the Indian army to do forward posturing. The 1962 war was triggered by Indian army incursion at Namka Chu, an east-west stream which separates the Thag La and the Hathung La ridge, and at Se La pass, north of Tawang. But I am jumping the gun, this is a success story, not one of defeat and humiliation. It is the story of Maj Khathing who captured Tawang in 1951, around the time that the Chinese were occupying Tibet. 

Ranenglao Khathing was born on 28 Feb 1912 in Manipur’s Ukhrul district. He was a Tangkhul Naga. The Christian missionaries had a profound influence on his psyche and one of them adopted him as their son. He studied at Sir Johnstone High School in Imphal, did his matriculation (10th)  from Shillong and joined Cotton College in Guwahati. When he failed to clear his BA examinations in 1936, he was determined not to return home until he had obtained a degree. So he went to Harasingha in Assam’s Darrang district and founded a school where he also taught.  A year later, after he had managed to graduate, a family friend SJ Duncan, who was then the British sub divisional magistrate of Ukhrul, convinced him to leave the Harasingha school and return to Ukhrul High School as it’s Head Master. In 1939 when WW-II precipitated worldwide mobilisation, 27 yr old Khathing immediately enrolled in the British army and was sent to the Officer’s Training School in Dehra Dun.

Commissioned into the 9/11 Hyderabad Regiment (now Kumaon Rgt), he had Thimaya (later General) as his company commander and TN Raina (later COAS) as fellow subaltern. In 1942 Khathing was transferred to the Assam Regiment in Shillong and became a captain. He was soon attached to the USAAF contingent at Jorhat for the ‘Hump Lift’ as a logistic liaison officer. ‘I am Capt Ranenglao Khathing’, he would introduce himself. It was too much for the Americans to mouth. ‘Yes Bob’, they would respond. Soon Capt Ranenglao Khathing morphed into ‘Capt Simply Bob’.

After the Japanese blocked the Burma road, the British army formed a  guerrilla outfit called Victor Force (an earlier version and subsequent role model for Col Wingate’s Chindits) using the missionary educated tribals of Nagaland.  Their task was to use topography and the jungles as their cover, live off the land and operate 100 to 150 miles deep inside the enemy territory to interdict the Japanese supply and communication lines, to inflict heavy causalities on the enemy and to act as a screen for then retreating British army from Burma. Capt ‘Simply Bob’ was sent to command this V-Force group in the Ukhrul area. He shed his army tunic, shaved his head like a typical Tangkhul tribesman with a thick mane running down the middle of his scalp, Mohawk style. On his back he carried a basket with dried salted meat and concealed his gun in his Tangkhul shawl. It is believed that while in command of Victor Force in 1942-44 period, he personally killed some 120 Japanese soldiers and played shindig with the Japanese, hit and run kind of war, living off the land and never surfacing anywhere, totally cut off from friend and foe. After the war was over, for his exemplary sacrifice and valour, he was awarded the Military Cross and made a Member of the British Empire.

After the World War, around 1945-46, Maj Bob was demobilised along with a large number of short-service emergency commissioned officers.  Immediately afterwards, on request of then Maharaja ‘Kumar Priyabrata Singh’, he went to Manipur and joined the then interim government as minister in charge of the hill areas. In 1949, when Manipur merged with India, the interim government was dissolved and Bob found himself at loose ends. Soon Sir Akbar Hydari, then Assam governor, asked him to rejoin the Assam Rifles as a stopgap measure. He then served with the 2nd Assam Rifles Battalion for two years in Sadiya. In 1951 he was inducted into the IF AS (Indian Frontier Administrative Service) as an assistant political officer.

One day he was summoned by the new Assam Governor, Jairamdas Daulatram.

‘Bob, do you know where is Tawang ?, Jairamdas asked him.

‘No Sir’, Bob answered truthfully.

The Governor took him to a ‘Globe’ on his desk and pointed out Tawang. ‘This is the kingdom of the Dzongpen of Tawang’, he traced his finger over the incredible 61,000 sq km waste land that lay north of Tezpur stretching eastwards from Bhutan, all the way to Mon tribal area of Nagaland that Bob was familiar with. ‘He who controls Tawang shall control the far east’, Jairamdas predicted. ‘Do you think the Chinese should control it ?’.    

‘No Sir’, Bob repeated.

‘What would take you to mount an expedition to Tawang and bring the Dzongpen under Indian political control, and to annex the region to the Union of India ?, the governor came straight to the point.

‘Sir, I am no longer in the army, I am now simply an assistant political officer, an Iff Ass’, he said with visible sadness. ‘I do not have the authority to do this’.

‘I am all the authority that you need, though neither the centre nor I have the ability to get the C-in-C Roy Boucher to agree to a military expedition for this task. At least not quickly enough to do it before the Chinese react’, Jairamdas mulled, running his hands over his bald head. ‘We need someone to do it quietly. Keeping in mind your war record, I cannot think of a better man to do it than you’.

‘I will do it’, Bob answered simply. ‘But I need an expeditionary force, about 200 hundred fully armed troops, mountaineering equipment as well as mules and porters to carry the equipment, a doctor and medical stores.

‘Sure’, answered Jairamdas. ‘Go, think it over. Send me the list of what you need and when you can start, the sooner the better’.

Bob did not think or procrastinate. He simply walked out of the Governer’s office, went to his PA’s office next door and dictated two simple letters to be typed on the letter head of the Govt Of India with the prominent Sarnath Lions in the top left corner. The letters were addressed ‘To Whomsoever It May Concern’.  The first letter, with a heading ‘SECRET’, said that the Governor of Assam, on behalf of the newly formed ‘Republic Of India’,  has ordered Maj Ranenglao Khathing (Rtd) to rejoin the Indian army, raise an armed expeditionary force, make war if necessary, and annex the Kingdom of the Dzongpen of Tawang with the Union Of India, as soon as possible. In the second letter, with the heading ‘UN CLASSIFIED’, the Governor authorised  Maj Ranenglao Khathing, a serving officer of 2nd Assam Rifles, to collect Rs 25,000 from the treasury and requisition any stores or personnel he felt necessary for a mountaineering expedition in eastern India. He concluded the second letter making himself accountable, that he was subject to expenditure accounting at the end of the expedition. He took both the letters to the Governor for his signature and the then ubiquitous red wax seal of authority.

 He asked the Governor for two months to conclude the operation. The Governor gave him 45 days to do it. Once again Bob walked into the PA’s office and dictated several telegrams, using Jairamdas’s name.

 The  first telegram was to his old unit, the 2nd Battalion of the Assam Rifles Regiment, still at Sadiya, near Barrackpore, near Calcutta. The message simply said, ‘Mobilise forthwith two companies with light weapons, ammo and stores to Tezpur. Requisition train resource and complete move with urgency. Capt Hem Bahadur Limbu from 5 AR to be in-charge of the move. Capt Modiero (doctor) and five physically fit medical orderlies to accompany troops with adequate medical and surgical stores. The troops to report to, and be under command of, Maj Khathing, reinstated forthwith to AR as Major’.

The second telegram was to Bata Company in Calcutta, requesting a special order for 1000 pair of fleece lined leather mountaineering shoes, to be shipped to Tezpur by chartered aircraft  urgently, payment to be made in advance from treasury against an invoice’.

The third telegram was to the cartographers at the ‘Geographical Society Of India’ also at Calcutta, to urgently forward to the Governor’s office, ten sets of large scale relief maps of area north of Tezpur, whatever was available.

The fourth telegram was to Benny & Sons, Canned Food Suppliers, once again at Calcutta to immediately accept an urgent delivery order for canned Luncheon Meat, Sausages and Mackerel, each ten thousand tins, to be handed over to Captain Hem Bahadur Limbu at Sadiya.  Payment to be made in advance from treasury against an invoice’.  Bob chuckled when the PA looked up from the type writer with a perplexed look. ‘Look my good man’, he said amicably. ‘If we have to march up the mountains  all day, we may as well sleep on a full stomach. Moreover, I have had more than enough of living off the land in Victor Force’.

His last telegram was to the Army Supply Park at Dhimapur. ‘Requisition thousand sets of Parkha or Irwing jackets, socks and other articles of warm clothing. Await instructions from Maj Khathing of 2 AR, scheduled to arrive your location in two days’. 

When he finally arrived there at Dhimapur, all he could find was brown US Army issue Angola shirts, which he accepted though they were all of awkward sizes.  On a spur of the moment brainwave, he travelled to Chabua and Dinjan where the USAAF had left behind large metal containers of stores when they withdrew their operations of the ‘Hump Lift’ from Chabua and Ledo six years earlier. There were hundreds of containers kept in safe custody of the Army and Air Force. When he broke open these containers, he found camping gear, tents, Irwing Jackets, woollen gloves and socks, inners, just about everything that he wanted for equipping his expeditionary force into the cold wasteland of the Himalayas. He got them repacked into four of the same containers and had them transported to Tinsukhia railway station, from where he sent them to Tezpur via Guwahati since that was the only road and rail crossing across the wide Brahmaputra river. Afterwards he caught a routine ferry from Dibrugarh to  Majauli island and crossed over to the north bank of the river on elephant back. Once across the river, he requisitioned an old war surplus jeep from a British tea planter and drove down tea plantation tracks and back roads to Tezpur, arriving several days before the men and material arrived there from all quarters. At Tezpur he made arrangements for around two hundred mules and donkeys, 400 odd porters from the plains, and another two hundred from the hills. He also requisitioned ten odd tailors and cobblers to go with them on the expedition with their tools of the trade. A mountain of food supplies, mostly rice, flour and condiments, kerosene jerry cans, he procured locally.  As the men and material arrived, he moved his base camp to a large clearing at Lokra, about twenty km north of Tezpur town.

For three weeks he drilled his men and took them on long endurance runs, carried out rifle shooting practice and formed them into a tough bunch with high morale and camaraderie. He formed small teams of porters, each hundred men, in change of a Naik of the AR, and sent them with the men and animal ported packed stores in relays to establish forward camps. He also sent scouts towards Tawang to not only reconnoitre easy mountain trails to Tawang, but also gather intelligence.

Due to the sudden nature of Bob’s activities and flashing of the unusual authorisation letter, the expedition came to the notice of Major TC Allen, the last British political and intelligence officer of the east, based in Dibrugarh. He followed Bob to Tezpur to enquire into whatever that was happening and met up with him at Lokra. Though Bob received him cordially, he gave Allen a Hobsons’s choice. Either come with him to Tawang or be quarantined at close arrest under guard at Lokra till the expedition was over. Allen, a keen mountaineer, chose the former and applied himself with zest as Bob’s second in command, thereby making it a strange indirect ‘Anglo Indian’ expedition J

The expedition started out from Lokra on 17 Jan 1951, with 200 soldiers under full pack with arms and ammunition. There were no regular roads or bridges over the rivers and streams, one had to just walk cross country. Because of physical toughening of troops and staging of camps twenty to twenty five km apart over inhospitable terrain with just goat tracks,  Bob was able to move his expeditionary force at great speed. However, he allowed the men from the plains to acclimatise to altitude by stopping a day every three days of march. Within nine days they were able to reach the Dzong at Bomdila, the first frontier post of Tibet then commanded by Katuk Lama, an assistant political agent. Bob camped right at the closed gates of the Dzong. The next day, on 26th Jan he hoisted the Indian flag in front of the Dzong and invited all the inhabitants to a feast. The Governor sent a Dakota from Guwahati to reconnoitre Bob’s progress. The aeroplane flew low over the monastery and while the soldiers waved, it did several rounds of the monastery. The show of force was enough to convince Katuk Lama that an invasion was in progress. He urgently despatched runners to warn all Dzongs towards Tawang.

After three days rest and recuperation, as also time for the hill porters of his retinue to catch up, Bob moved out once again on 1st Feb 51 to Chakpurpu and Senge Dzong at the base of the Sela Pass. The five mile climb to Sela Pass sapped their energy and wits. Undaunted, they moved further up the mountain to Nauranang. On 4 February, they camped at Jang village. Two locals and some troopers were sent out by Bob to collect information and to gauge the feelings of the local people towards their expedition and to invite them for another feast. The next day, the headmen and elders of Rho Changda and the surrounding villages of Jang visited Bob. Through an interpreter Bob explained the purpose of his visit and advised them not to pay obeisance to the Tsona Dzongpens, that they were now free citizens of the Union Of India.  To the exceptionally primitive tribals in such isolated and far flung land, the concept of freedom and democracy were as alien as the back side of the moon.   However they understood that a new conqueror ‘Bob’ had come to rule them.  Bob then detached Capt Limbu, Sub Bir Bahadur and Jam Udaibir Gurung, tasking them to scout around the Sela Tract to find a militarily defensible site  and to construct a permanent check post and barracks to establish an Indian frontier post. He left behind some of his troops as well as porters and advised Limbu to take the help of the local  tribals to carry out his task.

Bob moved his task force further forward. On 6 February they camped at Gyankar and Tibetan representatives of the Dzongpen of Lhau came down hill to meet them. They brought presents and offered Bob incentives in gold and women if he would go back. Bob simply smiled and welcomed them as fellow citizens of a new country to enjoy a new found freedom. Next day was the Tibetan New Year or Lhosar, the first day of the Year of the Iron Horse. In the evening it snowed heavily and the weather turned extremely cold. However, the entire expeditionary force including the porters were snug and warm in American war surplus clothing due to Bob’s foresight and good sense .

Bob and the expeditionary force reached Tawang on 7 Feb 51. They spent two days scouting the area for a permanent site where both civil and military lines could be laid out with sufficient area for a playground. A place was chosen north-east of Tawang Monastery and he camped his force at this location. He put his soldiers and porters to work building a semi permanent military camp with wooden logs and stones. He then sent emissaries to the Dzongpen for cordial meetings and to arrange an instrument of accession to the Union Of India.  For two days there was no reciprocity or goodwill. The small population remained indoors.

After three days, Bob got impatient. That night he ordered his men to fire 20 rounds of two inch mortar at the hill sides and fire off 1000 rounds of 303 ammo in the air. In the closed confines of the mountain, on a dark and silent night, the fireworks sounded like frightening thunder claps, echoing and reverberating, one placating message after another. The voice of God. In the morning he lined up his troops, fixed bayonets and marched his troops up and down Twang for four hours. He also planted the Indian Flag in front of the Monastery. This had the desired effect and the next morning the Dzongpen sent emissaries. Bob put Maj Allen of the British army on the job to negotiate armistice and to draw up a parchment for the formal accession.

There were endless long winded negotiations.  The emissaries were told that the Tsona Dzongpens or any representatives of the Tibetan government could no longer exercise any power over the people living south of the Bumla range. Obviously the emissaries had many objections to such a preposterous proposition.

On 11 Feb Bob made a courtesy call on the Abbot of the Tawang monastery. He gifted the Abbot with a hand wound gramophone and two Beethoven 33 rpm records. The Abbot had never seen such an invention and after the initial fear he instantly took a shine to ‘Music of Budha’. Bob then presented other monks with knickknacks from his camp, American warm clothing, several Tiffin carriers, back pack, tinned food, a bugle. He requested them for their assistance to advise and to influence the local people to acknowledge and accept the accession to the Union Of India. No taxes were to be imposed, women were to be treated with respect.  He told them of the withdrawal of the British from India. He sold them the concept of freedom and the new found aspirations of the people of India.  The rural rustic monks found Bob a more pleasant and sagacious King to have than the autocratic Dzongpens.

After two days, on 13th Feb, because Allen was making no headway, he sent out patrols to round up the Chhgergans (officials) of the 11 Tsos or Tibetan Administrative Units and to bring them into the camp. If they did not come voluntarily, he ordered that they were to be brought by force. For several days afterwards they were wined and dined with great hospitality and respect, Bob issued a general order that they were henceforth not to accept the suzerainty of the Dzongpens or Drekhong, or pay tax or tribute to them.

Finally around the 19th or 20th of Feb, Bob ran out of patience. He was also running out of the time that the Governor had given to him. Along with Allen, the Chhgergans and a hundred troops,  he marched directly to the palace of Nyertsang, the Dzongpen of Tawang. He did not meet with any resistance and there was no violence of any kind. All proceedings were done with traditional cordiality and respect.

Nyertsang laboured and stalled for time, to seek advice and guidance from Tibetan government in Lhasa.

‘What Govt ?’, Bob interjected. ‘The Chinese army has invaded Tibet’.

‘You ever heard of Col Younghusband ?’, Allen asked Nyertsang. ‘There is a treaty with the Govt of Tibet, and as per that treaty the area south of the watershed, south of the McMahon line,  it is in India, not Tibet.  Tawang is part of India. You really have no business here’, he said.

Because of his awkwardness in sitting on the cushions placed on the ground, and because his pistol butt was poking his hip, Allen suddenly took out his Smith & Wesson pistol and placed it on the ground in front of him. 

Nyertsang’s visage fell, he deflated like an air pillow.

Allen took out the parchment from his map case and the treaty of accession to the Union Of India was signed by Nyertsang without much ado. Under the powers vested on him by the Governor of Assam, Maj Bob Ranenglao Khathing  MC, OBE, signed the treaty on behalf of the Republic Of India. As a token of appreciation, a ‘Nazrana’, of 1000 Rupees was paid to Nyertsang.  Allen named the Kingdom of the Dzongpen of Tawang, as the ‘North East Frontier Agency’ (NEFA). Bob appointed Allen as a Lieutenant Governor, accountable to the Governor of Assam,  to administer the kingdom till GOI could send their representatives. A quarter-guard was established at the Dzongpen’s treasury using AR troops and Allen set out to document all cash and treasure, besides other administrative tasks of governance. Allen was the first ‘Nawab of Nefa’, albeit white.

After the accession ceremony, Bob had a final task to do, to go back to the Governor and inform him that he had carried out his duty, to every one’s satisfaction, without firing a shot (except for the fire works for entertainment). So he set out downhill to Tezpur with a small retinue leaving the expeditionary force in charge of Allen. The Governor sent a Dakota to pick him up from Tezpur and they flew to Delhi and went to see the Prime Minister, Nehru.

Nehru was livid, ‘Who asked you to do this ?’, he vented his anger at the Governor. ‘I wish you had the good sense to consult me before you commissioned this colossal stupidity. Do you have any idea how much trouble I am having with Chow En Lai over Tibet ?’, he mourned. ‘I want a complete black out on this incident’, he ordered the PMO. ‘I want the PTI to put the lid over this, and not blabber about it’.  

‘And you’, he pointed an accusing finger at Bob. ‘Please get lost, don’t ever talk about it’.

Bob and Jairamdas walked out of the PMO dejected. 

It took Nehru another four years of tough negotiations with Chow En Lai to come to terms and sign an eight year agreement over Tibet and form the first ‘Sino Indian Pact’. Only in Apr 1954, after the pact, did GOI publically announced it’s suzerainty over NEFA and appoint an Indian overseer team in NEFA to replace Allen and his merry men from 2 AR. The new Indian team was from the Special Intelligence Bureau, none from the prestigious newly formed IAS ever wanted to go and live in this god forsaken land . NEFA finally became an Indian state, renamed ‘Arunachal’, the land of the rising sun,  only in 1986. It was to have a brand new capital, to be built out of the blue at Itanagar, a pasture in the foot hills. Tawang was too much of a bother for both the new found politicals, as well as IAS in NEFA.

Afterwards Bob simply disappeared amongst the vast multitude of India, faceless and without an identity. He was to go back to Tawang only in 1986, for the statehood celebrations. His visit was private and unrecognised. A 74 yr old man’s personal trip down memory lane. None recognised or remembered Bob.  Like all old and bold soldiers, he did not die, he simply passed away, having done his duty well.

In 1966, when I joined NDA, my Divisional Officer in Foxtrot Sqn was a nephew of Bob, the same kind of man, with the same genes, simply an incredible, resilient, unstoppable, hard core soldier. The first ten years of my own soldiering was in that area, the god forsaken country in the far-east. One soldier to another, three cheers,  ‘Long live Maj Bob Ranenglao Khathing MC, OBE, hip hip ................’.



CYCLIC

27 comments:

  1. Nehru's reaction to the efforts of Bob left me thinking, "If only Godse had shot Nehru instead of Gandhi...".

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    Replies
    1. And that asshole Krishna Menon we would have lot less Piles and pain in ass...

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  2. Dear Anonymous Sir,
    I am getting on, and not very worldly-wise or erudite. However, I think your comment is unjust. In my story, if I have conveyed feelings to elicit such a comment, I am most unhappy. Gandhi and Nehru were extraordinary men, they were paladins of another era, pitch forked into strange circumstances and compulsions that led them to do what they did, or didn’t do. I wish there were more men like them. Nathu Ram Godse was a misguided person, a tool used by manipulative politicals to achieve their parochial agenda (and I don’t mean RSS, there is more to it) . My story of Maj Yambem is simply about soldiering and about how India was cobbled together by people like Sardar Patel and Jairamdas, the silent ‘Uncles’ of the nation. The real Heroes. Now we only have pretenders. Nehru was probably the only wise and sagacious PM that we have had (besides Mdme I’Gandhi), it is tragic that we allowed lesser men to rule India afterwards. Maj Yambem, as I said, was a ‘Dog Of War’, a mercenary like so many of us. Ours was simply to do and die, and not to reason why. My stories are simply to make sure that there will be Yambems in every generation, without them there will be no sugar or spice.
    ‘Dil Mange More’, as the younger generation says. Keep smiling, enjoy life, it is precious.

    Best regards,
    CYCLIC

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  3. Hi Cyclic, I am a Tangkhul Naga and very much related to late grandpa Major Khathing Ralengnao. Yes, he was better known as Bob, but my question is when did he get the name Yambem? Yambem is a Meitei name, Meiteis are the inhabitants of Manipur valley. Tangkhul Nagas are tribals who are inhabit in the hills. He was never called by the name Yambem, I think your journalist friend Yambem is a Meitei and want to drive home that Meiteis and tribals are the same, which is not. This is shameless distortion of history and robbing of identity....

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  4. Dear Sucks,
    I can understand how one's feel when the name has been wrongly put.Pls find the link below to answer your doubt.Also,to clarify,the journalist who wrote the article on "HE GOT TAWANG FOR INDIA !!" has rightly put the name as "Major Bob Khathing" and not as Major Yambem.See the link below: http://kanglaonline.com/2011/06/khathing-the-taking-of-tawang/. Laba Yambem is the name of the famous journalist and you should infact feel good that he took up the pain to research about Major Bob and he jotting down an article on Major Bob makes us all know/aware about Major Bob's bravery and achievements.The writer of this particular article might be confused about the manipuri naming convention and that is how it has been mis-interpreted.I now feel that ths facts answer to your line which state "...your journalist friend Yambem is a Meitei and want to drive home that Meiteis and tribals are the same, which is not. This is shameless distortion of history and robbing of identity."

    Regards,
    H Maya

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  5. My dear friends (Sucks and Maya),

    I thank you for bringing this gross error (Yambem) to my notice. I apologise.

    As you will notice, I have now edited out the ‘Yambem’ distortion from your illustrious grand Pa’s tale. If there are any other distortions, kindly advise me.

    Now don’t you go start a fight between Tangkhul Nagas and Meiteis just over my story. That would pain me and discourage me from telling you more stories. I have always been a non parochial and truly secular man. My stories on this blog are meant to make you feel good, not sad or angry. Be good.

    I am most grateful to Mr Yambem who wrote the original story. If it had not been for his recent reminder on the net, this story may have remained buried in my subconscious and flagging memory.

    I have put my email ID (my real name) and tel no below. Can you send me a personal mail, call, or give me your number so that I can call you ? It would be a real treat, honour and a pleasure to make friends with the 2nd generation of such an illustrious man 

    best regards,

    ugkartha@gmail.com

    9810252959

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  6. BRIGADIER BOB KHATHING, FORMERLY MAJOR OF 2 AR, LOVED HONIAR SOTO POTO ALSO CALLED YAM YAM WHICH WAS A GREEN TEN TIMES STRONGER THAN MINT. I GREW THEM IN MY VEGETABLE GARDEN AND ONE DAY HE FLEW IN IN A HELICOPTER AND HARVESTED HALF AWAY. YET HE SAVED ME FROM THE WRATH OF "YOU KNOW WHO" FOR ASSUMING THE POWER OF THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA IN THE FRONTIER AND ORDERING ARMY TO PATROL A ROUTE THAT CONNECTED TWO WARRING TRIBES.
    I WAS THERE WITH HIM WHILE HE LAID DOWN HIS ELDER BROTHER WHO HAD DIED OF SICKNESS, NEXT TO HIS FATHER AND MOTHER IN UKHRUL.
    IF BOB KHATHING WAS THE PM OF INDIA AND AR HAD AIR SUPPORT, THERE WOULD BE NO CHINESE IN TIBET.

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    1. Bob was never a Brigadier....he continued a Major till his death bed. I happen to be in his funeral. Why not call him GENERAL instead of that unwanted brigadier!!!!!!! lol

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  7. Yes Sir,

    Bob was a formidable soldier and had he been around Tawang during 62 war, it would have made a big difference.

    I also agree that 62 was the blackest hour for IAF. Definitely our defeat would have been less annoying. I have just inserted Part – I of a future war story on the blog, that may avenge 62, the IAF will play it's part and not sit on it's butt. I hope you will like this story.

    Sir, do you have a photo of Bob that you can give me to add to this story on my blog ?

    best regards,

    ugkartha@gmail.com

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    1. thanks for this valued article,please do edit the name as Ralengnao too..

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  8. unbelievable .. Hats off to BOB. but really surprised that some dhotiwala will take such bold decision (Jairamdas Daulatram) . really he was also a gr8 man . ...

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  9. nehru was a disaster for india, your attempts to paint him in a fond cloth notwithstanding, sir. his reaction to bob's act was typical nehru, lack of grace, arrogant, and short sighted. how many indian soldiers died in 1962 thanks to nehru's ham handed attempts at running his writ over the army. seriously sir, you take us for fools if you think nehru was "exceptional", a "dog of war" like bob is anyday more respectable than a nehru.

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  10. Not all dhotiwalas, Jholeywala or any other wala are bad. There fewer of them who were true nationalist and strategist. Gandhi khandaan and Nehru legacy--well less said is better, however the biggest credit of Nehru was he believed in Constitution, and strengthened the roots of freedom and democracy in our nation.
    I am glad author and former soldier has brought a true son of this nation and given him his due credit. I highly doubt that any government or leader will have the cajones to publicly honor an extra ordinary man.

    My Dear friend Sucks: Please don't feel slighted by mere little things. Remember it is your country, you own it, regardless of what some Jerk A$$ Politicians have done there is no denying of the fact we are all Indians--from my experience I can pay a tribute to my brethren of all north east State.....After knowing you and working with you, I have been honored by your friendship and bravery....and that is Jat's Tribute to my fellow countrymen.

    Karan Singh

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  11. Sir,
    Just read the entire article and it made my day. I would love to go to Imphal for the centenary celebrations of Major Bob having read his story.
    Coincidentally even i am ex Nda,a Qfi and Tp.
    Warm regards
    Sanjeev

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  12. Unni sir,
    That was a fabulous piece of research. And a brilliant piece! How did you manage to get so much details? The national desire to clasp history to the chest is so demeaning to such heroes and kind of kills the spirits of aspirants too.
    Something that bothers me as far as facts are concerned is that Bob joined IFAS in 1951 whereas his expedition started on 02 Jan 1951. There is a need to reconcile the dates and maybe he joined IFAS in 1950!
    Regards
    George

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  13. Lovely story Sir. Just makes me feel so good reading it. And This man the "new Assam Governor, Jairamdas Daulatram" is a man of substance and vision, in the league of Sardar Patel! Hat off to him to dare it.
    Well told. Thanks.

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  14. Hello Kartha,
    The present Dalai Lama came to India in 1959.The narrative gives the impression it took place during the early fifties.But the story is well researched and presented.About Brigadier Bob Khating and Governor Jairamdas Daulatram,what can one say about men of such stature? Brave men who did their duty as they saw it.Truly inspirational to read about and hopefully emulate as we go about our daily chores.
    Thanks for a good read.Regards, Ramesh

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  15. Hi Sir,
    It was very interesting to read how NEFA, Twang & Tanga came into picture. Am son of an Army officer and by virtue of which i had a chance of visiting the beautiful "God Forsaken" land. :)

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  16. It is a pity that even the Army has forgotten him.Where there should have been studies and seminars to educate the new generation of soldiers there was nothing.I had spend several tenures in North East and never came across any mention of the unparallelled National service rendered by this soldier. I hope at least now for posterity's sake the Eastern Command of the Army will institute some studies and name a border road or other such Military landmark in memory of this great son of India.

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  17. My dear Anonymous,
    Bob was a man of all seasons, one of those people who just did their duty and went away quietly. Probably the reason why neither you nor I heard of him during your travails in that part of the world, many years after Bob’s golden era. Frankly I did hear of him from Wg Cdr Ramunny who was the Chief Sec of Nagaland in the early 70’s, but I was then a very young man more enamoured by the wonderful young people of Nagaland than Bob. Probably you and I were busy thinking of the future and not the past, just like Bob. I presume you are / were a soldier / statesman, and I am sure you have left a few drops of your own blood, a few finger prints somewhere on those God-damn mountains of the east (I did, I have crapped all over those mountains, mostly out of fear for self preservation).

    I have to make a confession regarding the story above. The tragedy or difficulty about writing a historical blog about some illustrious people is that they don’t leave a paper trail about their life and times and no matter how much you try, the research is not enough. At some point I begin to think I know enough to cobble a story and write one, mainly to amuse myself as much as to inspire the reader. Then I am flooded with further information from all sorts of unexpected sources because the story triggered an earth quake. At the time of writing Bob’s story, though I did do research, it was half cocked and about the Arunachal and not about the hero of the story. Many responded to me directly on my email ID, several people whose father or grand fathers had served in Arunachal of those years or those who knew Bob personally. And one of them was the grandson of Bob, a software engineer in Bangalore. Though them I discovered to my embarassment that the story of Bob Khathing did not end the way I projected it. Bob Khathing was an unstoppable man, like a jack in the box, he kept popping out at rouble spots no matter how much the system tried to shut him up. He is in fact part of a folklore of the north east, a man of all seasons.

    On 28 Feb 12, Bob’s family decided to hold a private (quiet) 100th birth centenary commemoration at Imphal ( Bob lived till 12 Jan 90). To the family’s great delight, on the morning of 28 Feb, the army marched in, into their privacy, with a pipe and brass band. Just about every army officer in that area including the GOC and Cmdt AR landed up there in full military regalia with medals and took the whole army and their families there with them. Not to be outdone, the entire bureaucracy of Arunachal, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam, an incredibly huge gathering, I believe about 40,000 people, attended the function, though the TV and the national dailies boycotted it as a non event. Not the man bite dog variety of things that the media prefer in their mad race for TRPs. The Army did not forget Bob Khathing. It is my belief that the Army (or the AF or Navy, the men in uniform) do not forget it’s own kind. They don’t even forget me, though I am redundant and a non entity, they even give me a pension. The army quietly started work on a football stadium in Imphal, to be named after Bob Khathing, because he loved football and was an excellent player. The stadium will probably be the best memorial for Bob, from here to eternity, none will forget him – somebody will stop by daily and ask, ‘Who was Bob Khathing ?’. I say this with conviction that Bob was the kind of ‘do and die’ man, not the kind who wanted edifices or statues to be built in his memory, though he deserved all that and more. There are just a few like him who won so many medals, honours and awards, won both in war, and in peace.

    Continued ................

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  18. Continued from above .........

    After his army career, Bob soldiered on in IAFS. In due course he was made a Distt Collector and rose to be the Chief Secretary of Nagaland in the most troubled times of it’s history. He was also the man who brought peace and prosperity of Nagaland with equal zest as his ability to make war. In the early 60’s before the 62 war, he did NDC as a Civilian, the beginning of his service in the newly formed MEA. After NDC he was deputed as an Advisor to the Chogyal of the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim to bring peace and harmony to that tiny paradise, the Shangri-La. That is where he was during the 62 war with the Chinese. After the 1962 debacle who do you think the GOI called on to retrieve the situation in NEFA ? It was Bob as the Chief Commissioner whose vision now reflects whatever that is good in Arunachal Pradesh including it’s capital ‘Ita Nagar’, a name that he coined, because it was near impossible to find the bricks to build that city. He did it though, nothing was impossible for soldiers like him, it just took a little longer to do the impossible. As a Governor and then the Ambassador to Burma, he was the man who helped bring the ‘Bamboo Curtain’ down on the Military Junta of Mayanmar. It was through his endeavour that the Army (8 Mtn Div) was allowed hot pursuit into Burma to catch the rebels.

    A true soldier I believe is a silent man in uniform. And when he is out of uniform, he traditionally seeks even less acclaim, hence the old adage, ‘Soldiers don’t die, they simply pass away’. Regimental loyalties are very strong in the Army and they keep track of each of their personnel, dead or living. I think the AF and the Navy are not so aggressively possessive about their old and bold, or their history. But they too do not forget. I recollect going to the funeral of old Air Mshl Gole Rtd, in recent past (though I never had the good fortune to serve under him). It was a sombre ceremony in Brar Square in Delhi Cantt, where the IAF had pall bearers in ceremonials doing a slow march to the slow sad tapping of a drum, and even a bugler to blow ‘Last Post’. I saw at least six old Air Chiefs there including a serving one. There is no scale to measure valour, 1 gm is as good as 100 kg of it. Each soldier is as good a man as the next one, some have more vigour and zest. Some are fortunate to have someone to write citations for what they did, or did not do. Some refuse awards and rewards, like the illustrious Col NA Salick, the Tiger of 4 Kumaon who roared at Tangdhar in 1965 war and told his superior, ‘I want no medals, just give it to my boys’. Or Col PB Menon (my own FIL) of Rajput Rgt who was another man like that. My own father too, that is another story.........me ? Well I am just Cyclic, the man who chased his own tail like a dog, when not chasing young ladies. I was no hero, and had little or no valour, that is what my superiors said in the anonymity of my IAF ACRs. What I was, my subordinates would know, and that is all I care about. Stories like that of Bob, Salick and Menon are politically embarrassing. There is a new world order, a future somewhat different from the past. So subjects of war studies and seminars are best about the future and not the past, though history keeps repeating itself !!!!!!

    I regret the inaccuracies or the shortcomings in my stories. Thank you for your comment on my blog. I hope my stories amuse and inspire you to continue to do good work, no matter how old and feeble you become, keep at it, please.

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    1. Its not true "Bob soldiered on in IAFS. In due course he was made a Distt Collector..." He joined the Indian Frontier Administrative Service" & most of the IFAS were pool in from different defense forces including police man. They were not called district collector but "Political Officers". Indian representative to Sikkim when Sikkim was under 'Chogyal' rule was also called "Political Officer". Good story by the author with many factual errors.

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  19. A most interesting and informative article Sir, thoroughly enjoyed reading the main article as well as the subsequent comments.

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  20. Sir,
    Indeed it is very very heartening to read the material and the invaluable story of BOB and indebtedness of the Nation.

    Loved the article , debate and top of all your humility.

    Bhupendra Tikhe, neelbhup @yahoo.co.in

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  21. Having flown the venerable 'Dakota' with No. 11 Sqn. IAF from 1955 to 1960 and again briefly in 1967-68 with No. 43 Sqn. IAF in earstwhile NHTA and NEFA, my fading memories of those days were re-kindled by this most readable blog by CYCLIC and his wonderful account of the life and achievements of the legendary Maj. Bob Khating... I had the pleasure of meeting him in Tuensang and I still treasure a gift of a bamboo beer-mug with Tankhool Naga surface decoration..Major Bob Khating was a most lovable and humble person, despite all that he had contributed through his service. It was a rare treat to read your remarkable article , in the twilight years of my life ( I am now 81 yrs. old) and an old "Fauji" of 5th. course NDA and 63rd.. Pilots course.. Thanks CYCLIC for your research and wonderful story - telling skill. Anindyo Chatterjee. e-mail : bobby.chatterjee@gmail.com

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  22. In my post I had wrongly written Indian Frontier Agency Service. It was called Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS).

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