The greatest misfortune of India is that its history has either been written by our colonizers, or servile stooges of the British who have done all that they could to undermine us as a civilization, as well as a nation state. For instance, this article talks about how India took control over Tawang in the year 1951, and how Arunachal Pradesh was pretty much saved from Chinese annexation as a consequence. This far-reaching development occurred at almost around the same time when China was illegally occupying Tibet. Tawang is strategically important for India. It is perhaps the shortest route, north of the Brahmaputra, to reach the Indo-China border. Being located towards the extreme West of Arunachal Pradesh, the Tawang region also borders Bhutan, effectively not letting China intrude and act smart towards Bhutan’s Northern and Eastern borders simultaneously.
Tawang being under Indian control is a primary reason why China was not able to annex Arunachal Pradesh (which it calls ‘South Tibet’) right after the occupation of Tibet. Close to nobody, however, knows about the national hero who secured Tawang for India in 1951, and hoisted the Indian flag at a region over 10,000 ft above sea level.
Major Ralengnao (Bob) Khathing, a Manipuri-Naga tribal used his distinguished military background and exemplary diplomatic skills to win over the locals of Tawang, who were back then under a flimsy Tibetan rule and established India’s irrevocable and permanent control over the region.
Ralengnao Khathing was born in 1912 in a Tangkhul Naga family in Manipur. In his life, the man served as a teacher, soldier, civil servant, political leader and a diplomat. Seldom will we find anyone in today’s times with as illustrious a career and life journey as Major Bob Khathing. Till Class V, he went to Pettigrew Mission School in Ukhrul. He then joined the Government High School in Shillong, which was back in the day, the capital of unified Assam State. Khathing graduated from Bishop Cotton College in Guwahati. He was the first tribal from Manipur to graduate, and the first Manipuri to get the King’s Commission.
Major Bob served in the British Indian Army during World War II, and for his selfless contributions and sense of duty, was awarded the Member of the British Empire in December 1943. Major Bob, having fought the Japanese, in August 1944 was awarded the military cross. However, the real contribution of Major Bob to his motherland would begin with a decision five years later, that of joining the Assam Rifles in 1949 as an Assistant Commandant. A year later, in 1950, Major Bob was given a mission as an Assistant Political Officer by the then Governor of Unified Assam, Jairamdas Daulatram.
Major Bob was told to bring Tawang under Indian control, and the man delivered on the same neatly, without a drop of blood being shed.
On January 17, 1951, Major Bob, accompanied by Captain Hem Bahadur Limbu, 200 troops of 5 Assam Rifles and 600 porters, embarked on the crucial and strategic mission, which would have far-reaching consequences not just for Arunachal, but the entire Northeast. For a complex and strategic region like Tawang, to be annexed by India peacefully, with Mao Zedong running China back then, truly exemplifies the Major’s diplomatic skills, as he was able to convince the locals of Tawang that India is what they really deserved. Back then, the Tibetan ‘administration’ forcefully collected taxes, which the local people often could not afford to pay. Major Bob Khathing, however, made no mention of taxes while speaking to the locals and convincing them to accept Indian rule over the region. This left many villagers confused, who approached him and narrated their apprehensions about India taxing them heavily. To this, Major Bob is said to have replied by saying that India and its Government would never exploit its own people. Hence, Tawang was brought under Indian control.
India’s Prime Minister back then, Jawaharlal Nehru, however, was not impressed, and was rather aghast at how such a mission was undertaken without having his approval. As a matter of fact, despite Nehru being the Prime and also Foreign Minister, was kept in the dark about the said mission. On March 18, six weeks after Bob had reached Tawang, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a note to the then Foreign Secretary, which read, “I hear constantly about the activities of the North and North-East Border Defence Committee. These activities have resulted in action being taken on the Tibetan border and in Nepal. At no stage have these matters been brought up before me for consultation, although apparently consultations have taken place with the Governor of Assam and other people far away. …I am greatly concerned about this matter because, as I have already mentioned to you, the manner of our going to Tawang and taking possession of it and thus creating some international complications has not been a happy one. I am yet not quite clear how all this was done without any reference to me.”
Reportedly, it was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who decided upon the operation sometime in December 1950, and himself ordered Jairamdas Daulatram to go ahead with the said mission, under the command of Major Bob Khathing, back then an Assistant Political Officer.
It was Sardar Patel’s foresighted approach, coupled with the Assam Governor’s decisiveness, and Major Bob’s impeccable persona which secured Arunachal Pradesh for India. China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh is purely dependent on Tawang. The Tawang Buddhist Monastery’s close links with the Lhasa Monastery form the foundation of China’s claim over Tibet. Since both are a centre of Buddhism, China considers them a part of Tibet, which by virtue then, must be brought under Chinese control. Centres of Buddhism are feared by China, as they could very well galvanize a worldwide pro-Tibet independence movement. Therefore, Tawang is wanted by China.
As far as Jawaharlal Nehru is concerned, the man, as Prime Minister, was more than willing to gift the Northeast to China, and also tried to console the residents of this region by saying that his ‘heart went out to the people of Assam.’ After all, having surrendered Aksai Chin, Nehru wouldn’t have minded a bunch of tribal people being run over by the People’s Republic of China.