Maj Khathing: Unsung NEFA hero who brought Tawang under India–VI

On 11.02.51 Bob made a courtesy call on Abbot of 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 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 13.02.51, because Allen was making no headway, he sent out patrols to round up the Chhgergans (officials) of 11 Tsos (Tibetan administrative units) 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 Dzongpens or Drekhong, or pay tax or tribute to them.

Finally around the 19-20 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,  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 Govt 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 Assam governor, Maj Bob Ranenglao Khathing  MC, OBE, signed the treaty on behalf of the Republic Of India. As a token of appreciation, Rs 1000 s was paid to Nyertsang a nazrana.  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 Assam Governor to administer the kingdom till GoI could send their representatives. A quarter-guard was set up 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 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 April 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 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 political, 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 unrecognized, a 74-year-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 10 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 hurray…’. (Concludes)

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