By: Dr. Shukhdeba Sharma Hanjabam
Major Bob Khathing is credited for setting up the permanent administration at Tawang by hoisting the tri-color Flag on 14 February 1951. He ended the British policy of isolating Arunachal Pradesh, then known as NEFA, by establishing and setting up the administrative structure of the newly independent Indian state, which was almost absent under British colonial rule. In this context, Major Bob Khathing may be considered as one of the most efficient compatriots of Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel ji, from the northeastern part of India, who is credited for stitching the territory of India. However, despite his distinguished service to nation-building for nearly four decades, Major Bob Khathing remains unsung. The paper tries to outline his contribution to nation-building.
Shri Ralengnao Khathing, popularly known as Major Bob Khathing has, touched the lives of many people during his active career span of 35 Years (1939 to 1974) and later on adviser/ consultant to various Governments till his death on January 12, 1990, at Imphal, Manipur. Major Bob Khathing was a multifaceted nationalist, which Northeast India should be proud of. Considering his engagements and commitment, it won’t be easy to say where Major Bob Khathing belongs. Wherever he is posted or engaged, he serves his best and contributes to the development of the place. His national-building perspective has always guided his activities. Major Khathing was born on February 28, 1912, to Shri Raleng Hamring and Smt Maisangva of the Ukhrul district, Manipur. Major Bob Khathing has an elder Brother and a sister. Shri Raleng Hamring was a school teacher and one of the first english educated person among the Tangkhuls of Manipur.
Major Bob Khathing started his education at Pettigrew Mission School, Ukhrul, where he studied upto class V. He then moved to Kangpokpi Mission School and completed his class VI with the State Scholarship of Rs 3/- per month. He passed his class VII from Kohima Training School in Naga Hills District, Assam (now Nagaland). In 1928, Major Bob Khathing passed his class VIII from Government High School, Shillong, Assam (Now Meghalaya). He completed high school and passed matriculation (class X) from Johnstone English High School, Imphal, in 1931. Major Bob Khathing joined Cotton College, Guwahati, with a state scholarship of Rs 35 per month and completed his Graduation in 1937.
Major Bob Kakthing has five children from his two marriages. He was first married in 1935 to Kumari Gaililu of the Kabui Community from Major Khul of Imphal and had a son named Relang Tampikhon. They settle at Major Khul, Imphal. His second marriage was with Kumari Kleris Nora Lyngdoh, daughter of Shri Shanbou Lyngdoh and Smt Khetmon Lyngdoh of Shillong, on June 18, 1945. They have four children, namely John, Bela, Darlando, and Sela, and they settle in Shillong.
Major Bob Khathing Contributions to National Building:
Major Bob Khathing has worked in different domains of national-building as a Teacher, Politician, Military, Bureaucrat, and Diplomat. He has worked in Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, and beyond the Country as Ambassador in Myanmar (Burma). However, even in Burma, he continues to work extensively for the cultural development of the Indian Diasporas and the trans-border communities on the Indo-Myanmar Border. Many appreciate his work and become friends, and many also differ from his nationalistic perspective. But he continued to stick to his principles till his last breath.
First Phase: Major Bob Khathing began his career as a Head Master of Harisanga Mission Middle English School at Mangaldai, Darrang district of Assam. After completing his Graduation in 1937, and on the invitation by the Government of Manipur through the Sub-Division Officer Shri J.C. Duncan, he started working at the Middle English School at Ukhrul and in 1939; he was working as Head of the school. He resigns as a teacher to join the emergency Commission at the onset of World War II.
Second Phase: He was commissioned (Emergency Commission) as a Second Lieutenant in 1942 in the 19th Battalion of the Hyderabad Regiment and later with the Kumoun Regiment. After a short stint at the North West Frontier Province (NWFP, now in Pakistan), he was promoted to Captain and assigned to lead the V Force in 1942 during World War II along the Indo-Myanmar Border, particularly the Manipur sector. He continued his service till 1945 and was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1943 and the Military Cross (MC) in 1944. After the War, he was shifted to Assam Regimental Training Centre, Shillong, in the latter part of 1945. He was moved to the 3rd Battalion of Assam Regiment by the beginning of 1946 as the Company Commander and promoted to Major. During his posting in the North West Eastern Province (NWEP) in mid-1947, Major Bob Khathing became an officer of the regular Commission. However, he quit his distinguished military service to serve the state of Manipur as a politician.
Third Phase: On the persuasion of serving the state of Manipur from his dear friends and also a colleague of Assam Rifles, Maharajkumar Priyabrata Singh, popularly known as Captain PB, Major Bob Khathing resigned from the permanent Commission in August 1947 and became a Minister in charge of Hills Affairs in the Interim Council to administer the State of Manipur on August 14 with Captain PB as the Chief Minister. Major Bob Khathing, Minister of Hill Affairs, extensively tours the hill areas of Manipur during his term. The incident of Shri A Daiho, a Mao Naga along the Manipur-Nagaland Border, who tried to rebel against the Government of Manipur to merge the area in Naga Hills (now Nagaland), was dealt with firmly by Major Khathing. Similarly, Shri Tona, an ex-serviceman from Senvon village near Tipaimuk, who also started a similar movement to merge the area with Lushai Hills (now Mizoram), was also successfully negotiated. Major Bob Khathing was supported by Shr T.C. Tiankham (Minister and later Speaker) from Churachandpur and Captain PB Singh. Later, Shri A Daiho works as a Minister for the Government of Manipur, and Shri Tona also works for the Government of Manipur.
The first election to the Manipur State Assembly based on an adult franchise was held in July 1948 to replace the Interim Council. It was reported to be the first of its kind in India. Major Bob Khathing contested the election from the Sadar Hill constituency and won with a thumping majority. With the successful completion of the election, the Interim Council was dissolved to make way for the new Council of Ministers, where Major Bob Khathing was again appointed as the Minister in charge of Hill Affairs. The first Manipur Legislative Assembly members under the Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 were sworn in at the Palace Durbar Hall on October 18, 1948. Maharaja Bodhchandra administered the oath and inaugurated the Assembly. Shri T.C Tiankham was elected as the Speaker of the Manipur Legislative Assembly. However, with the merger of Manipur on October 15, 1949, the Council of Ministers, including Major Khathing and the Assembly, was dissolved. His subsequent career as a Bureaucrat begins.
Fourth Phase: Major Bob Khathing was inducted to the Indian Frontier Administrative Service in October 1951, after brief service as Assistant Commandant (stop-gap arrangement) with the Assam Rifles in Shillong. He was posted as an Assistant Political Officer in Pasighat of Tirap Agency (later Division/District) out of the six Agencies (Kameng, Subansuiri, Siang, Lohit, Tirap, and Tuensang) of North Eastern Frontier Agency / NEFA (present-day Arunachal Pradesh). In January 1951, he was shifted to Kameng Agency under the command of Major Geoffery Allens as his Political Officer. He was in charge of the Sela Sub Agency, and the headquarters of the Kameng Agency was at Charduar in Assam. It was during this assignment that he was assigned to extend the territoriality of India upto the Indian Border town of Tawang as agreed in the McMahon Line of the Simla Convention on July 03, 1914. Major Bob Khathing hoisted the Tri-colour national flag at Tawang on February 14, 1951. In April 1952, he was promoted to Political Officer of the Kameng Division and shifted his headquarters from Charduar to Bomdilla. During the height of the Naga insurgency in Naga Hills and Tuensang Agency/Division of NEFA, Major Bob Khathing was in charge of Tuensang Agency until 1957. He was posted as the first Deputy Commissioner of Mokokchung District. By 1962, he was assigned as the Development Commissioner of Sikkim. During the height of the Chinese invasion, he served as the Security Commissioner and Chief Liason Officer with the Army 4 corps based at Tezpur from November 1962-Jan 1967 to coordinate the activities between Army and civil authorities and to address the issue of post-rehabilitation of the Refugees. He was appointed Chief Secretary of Nagaland State in 1967 and served until 1972.
Fifth Phase: Even before the retirement from Chief Secretary of Nagaland, Major Bob Khathing was brief about his next assignment – a diplomat as early as August 1971. All India Radio, on September 17, 1971, announced the appointment of Major Bob Khathing as the Ambassador of Myanmar (Burma) and the first tribal Ambassador of India. Major Bob Khathing was the Indian Ambassador in Myanmar from 10.01.1972 – 1974. During his stint as Ambassador, Myanmar was under the command of a Military Junta in one form or the other. It can be noted that, on March 02, 1962, General Ne Win overthrew the elected government led by U Nu in Burma and declared himself the Prime Minister and Chairman of the Union Revolutionary Council. By 1964 he made the Burma Socialist Programme Party the only political party in Burma, and the election was held. After the election, General Ne Win became the President of Myanmar (Burma) on March 02, 1974.
Major Bob Kakthing, despite the situation, did not sit idle but toured Myanmar right upto the Kabaw Valley, where he came across older people who could understand the Manipuri language. He reportedly knew the situation during his military days (World War II). Haobam Bhuban Singh stated that Major Bob Khathing was trying to re-establish close cultural ties with the people of Kabaw Valley. He was also reported to have brought copies of Mahabharat, Manipuri dancers, singers, and Kirtan parties from Manipur for the Manipur Hindus in Mandalay to maintain their distinct identity..
Manipuri diaspora in Myanmar can be traced back to the earliest times. Records have been found in the Royal Chronicles of Manipur, the Cheitharol Kumbaba, and the Ningthourol Lambuba (Royal Chronicle dealing with military expeditions) that the Meiteis shared a long period of interaction with the Shans (the Pong) and also with the Burmans. As early as 1470 AD, Manipur had political connectivity with Myanmar following the signing of the treaty between the King Khekhomba of Pong of Upper Myanmar and King Kyamba (1467-1523) of Manipur. It was during the reign of King Kyamba that the King of Pong gifted the idol of Vishnu and some ritual items to Kyamba. The Manipuri Brahmins are referred to as ‘Paona’ as they were ‘Purohit’ (Priest) under the king of Myanmar, while non-Brahmins are known as ‘Kate .’ Manipuris remain scattered in and around different parts of Myanmar, such as – Kachin state, Yangon division, Sagaing division, Shan state, Ayeyarwaddy division, etc.
The initiatives of Major Bob Khathing to revive the roots of the diaspora could be a continuation of the initiative taken up by His Highness the Maharaja Churachand Singh of Manipur, whom Major Bok Khathing enjoyed the scholarship to study for his Graduation. The Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha (NHMM), under the patronage of Maharaja Churachand Singh, was established to ‘bring about social integration of the Manipuris living in different parts of British India and Burma separated by historical and other factors. The Mahasabha had three major sessions at Imphal (1934), Silchar (1936), and Mandalay (1937).
Sixth Phase (Post Retirement Phase): Major Bob Khathing was never a retired person in the real sense. Once relieved from his official service, he immersed himself in serving the students, youth, and veterans. He usually reported to have taking tours in various villages in the Ukhrul district and interacting with the students on various issues. He was also actively involved with the Manipur Cultural Integration Conference, an organization established in 1967, which works to bring a harmonious and cohesive society by preserving and promoting cultural growth, effervescence, and fruition of various ethnic groups of people inhabiting within the territorial jurisdiction of Manipur, including its Diasporas both within India and aboard.
Major Bob Khathing extensively tours the hill areas of Manipur during his work on the codification of tribal by ethnic groups, cultural similarities, and customary laws with Justice Brigadier Sen for the Government of India. Major Bob Khathing serves as the Chairman of the Tribal Law Commission and Administrative Reforms Commission of Manipur. He also served as the Chairman of the Administrative Commission of Nagaland. During the Presidential Rule of Manipur in 1980, he, along with Captain PB Singh and Shri GC Bhaveja, was appointed as the Advisor to the Government of Manipur for about two months.
Major Bob Khathing revisited Tawang (his last visit) in March 1988 along with Captain PB Singh, Shri Yambem Laba, and her daughter Sela. He was received warmly by the Government of Arunachal Pradesh. Major Bob Khathing, after retirement, spent most of his time in Shillong and partly in Imphal, mainly during the winter. Major Bob Khathing and his family were on their usual winter visit to Imphal, which turned out to be the last visit of Major Bob Khathing. On January 12, 1990, Major Bob Khathing died in his most loved birthplace, Manipur (Mantripukhri residence, Imphal), surrounded by his dear friends Captain PB Singh, family members, and friends. Major Bob Khathing was buried at his Imphal residence, where a memorial was erected on his Birth Centenary in 2012.
Major Bob Khathing, Shri Jairamdas Daulatram, Sardar Patel & Tawang:
Tawang (literally means “TA” means Horse, and “Wang” means Chosen) was given by his holiness the Mera Lama Lodre Gyatso, who initiated to built the Monastery as per the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama in the later part of 17th-century. Tawang, because of its strategic location, has seen Chinese aggression since the setting up of the permanent Indian administration by Major Bob Khathing in 1951. The Sino-Indian War of 1962, the occasional claims by Chinese Authorities, and the intrusion of the Chinese military remain the focus of Tawang.
Considering Tawang’s strategic importance, the British official tried to set up a permanent administrative unit but failed. The British have attempted twice to establish their presence in the area; first, in 1913, Captain Navil carried out his reconnaissance and recommended establishing police posts at Dirang and Rupa; secondly, in 1938, Captain Lightfoot visited the area for a similar reason. But it remains a recommendation mainly due to the first and Second World Wars. Taking advantage of the administrative vacuum, the Tibetan authorities administer the area through their Governors (Dzongpen for religious/ spiritual matters, and Tsona Dzongpen, for administration).
The military activities of the Chinese military along the Indian border seem to be increasing after China’s taking over Tibet. The Indian official used to report the increasing Chinese activity in various parts of NEFA by early 1951. Shri Jairamdas Daulatram, the Governor of Assam, was most concerned about the Tibetan administration through the dzongpens was still exercising control over Tawang. The Governor authorized Major Bob Khathing to execute the plan within 45 Days, which also has the consent of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel ji. Major Bob Khathing executed the plan to set up the administration in just 29 days (January 17, 1951 – February 14, 1951) and reported to the Governor of Assam.
The success of setting up the permanent administration was reported to have upset the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He seems to have vented his anger to Governor Jairamdas and Major Bob Khathing Bob, ordered a “complete blackout on the affair out of fear of adverse diplomatic fallout, and berated them for their colossal stupidity.”. Similarly, Col. Dr. Narendra Singh cited that
“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 complete blackout 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”.
Despite setting up the permanent administration at Tawang in February 1951, it was only in April 1954 that the Government of India officially announced the sovereignty of NEFA after signing the Sino-Indian Treaty (The Panchsheel Agreement) on April 29, 1954.
Major Bob Khathing remains Unsung:
Major Bob Khathing, besides the achievement of Tawang, was credited for introducing many new developments to strengthen the territoriality of India in the North East region. During his time as Minister in Manipur, the 1st Battalion of Manipur Rifles was raised in 1948. While holding the charge as Political Officer of Tuensang Agency/Division in NEFA, he played a crucial role in the creation of the Village Volunteer Force and also Shastra Seema Bal (SSB) with the famed B.N. Mullick following the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The Nagaland Armed Police and Naga Regiment were raised during his tenure as the Chief Secretary of Nagaland. He also served as a committee member to finalize the 16 points agreement representing India that led to the Shillong Accord of 1975.
Major Bob Khathing may be considered as one of the most efficient compatriots of Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel ji, from the northeastern part of India, who is credited for stitching the territory of India. Even though Padma Shri was awarded to him only in 1957, he seems to have been systematically erased from the history of India and North East in Particular. The blackout by Nehru and his nationalistic perspective that differs from some sections of society in the Northeast could be the main reason that erased him from public memory. The Northeastern states, where he has dedicated the maximum of his service, seem to have forgotten Major Bob Khathing. Only the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where the Twang belongs, seems to remember him in recent times. Assam Rifles seems to have taken the responsibility to revive the memory of Major Bob Khathing by introducing the Memorial Lecture and Annual Football tournaments.
The Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji has rejuvenated the glory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Ji, on his 143rd Birth anniversary, by erecting the Statue of Unity (182 Metres) on October 31, 2018, at his birthplace Gujarat. “It is an iconic symbol of the ‘Iron Man,’ who played an important role during India’s freedom struggle and thereafter in the unification of the princely states. It reminds the world of the towering personality of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the nucleus of India’s integration as a united country.” However, Major Bob Khathing, who acts in line with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel ji, remains unsung even today when India celebrates its 75 years of Indian Independence.
Acknowledgment: The book by Lt Col H Bhuban Singh (1992, 2012), Major Bob Khathing: The Profile of a Nationalist Manipuri Naga, Pritam Haobam, Imphal, inspire me to write the paper.
(The author is a Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Regional Campus, Manipur, <[email protected]>;)