Hero of Arunachal and India: Major Bob Khathing

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

One of the real unsung heroes of Arunachal and India is Major Ralengnao ‘Bob’ Khathing. Recently, the chief minister of Arunachal announced that a memorial would be built in Tawang to honour him.

Bob Khathing was a Tangkhul Naga from Ukhrul in Manipur. He was commissioned into the British Army as an officer in 1941. He took part in World War II as the captain of the V Force which carried out guerrilla warfare against Japanese forces in Burma. For acts of valour, he was awarded with the Military Cross and Member of the Order of British Empire (MBE). Thereafter, he joined Manipur government and served as a minister. After accession of Manipur into India, he joined the Assam Rifles as assistant commandant and was posted in Sadiya. Thereafter he joined as assistant political officer and was posted in Pasighat and Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh.

In those days Tawang and adjoining areas upto Dirang Dzong were still being controlled by the Tibetans, long after Indian independence. On being tasked by the governor of Assam, he commandeered a group of Assam Rifles troops and marched to Tawang. Major Bob Khathing along with two other officers and 200 troops of the 5 Assam Rifles started from Charduar, Assam, on 17 January, 1951. The team reached Dirang Dzong and hoisted the Indian flag on 26 January. Thereafter, the team marched towards Tawang and reached Tawang on 6 February, 1951. The team camped at Tawang and held negotiations with the Tibetan officials for a few days. On noticing hesitation and non-cooperation, he instructed the soldiers to fix bayonets on the rifles, and marched around Tawang. Noticing his firm resolve, the Tibetan officials succumbed and Major Bob Khathing hoisted the Indian flag in Tawang on 14 February, 1951. This act led to the establishment of Indian control over Tawang and adjoining areas almost four years after Indian independence.

Later, when prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru came to know about the incident, he became angry. Later it emerged that the incident was planned by the then home minister Sardar Patel along with the governor of Assam.

Later, Bob Khathing was inducted into the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (later merged with IAS) and held many posts, including deputy commissioner, commissioner and chief secretary of Nagaland. He was instrumental in the formation of the Naga Regiment and the Naga Armed Police. He was also instrumental in the formation of the state of Nagaland. During the 1962 Sino-India war, he was appointed as chief civil liaison officer of the 4 Corps in Tezpur. His contributions led to the formation of the Special Services Bureau (SSB). He was later appointed as ambassador to Burma, from where he retired in 1975. He has many firsts to his credit: the first tribal officer in the British Army, the first tribal to be awarded the Padma Shri, the first tribal to be nominated as ambassador, etc.

Such was the saga of Major Ralengnao ‘Bob’ Khathing. The planned memorial would be a fitting tribute to the unsung hero of India and Arunachal Pradesh. (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)