Without his skills and his intelligence of the area, Tawang would perhaps be Chinese today.
Interestingly, Mao and his colleagues did not realize before 1953/54 that once upon a time, Tawang had been administrated by Lhasa.
A few years before he passed away, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw told the following story: “(On arriving at Delhi from Srinagar on October 26, 1947), the first thing I did was to go and report to Sir Roy Bucher [The Commander-in Chief of the Indian Army]. He said, 'Eh, you, go and shave and clean up. There is a cabinet [Defence Council] meeting at 9 o'clock. I will pick you up and take you there.' So I went home, shaved, dressed, etc. and Roy Bucher picked me up, and we went to the cabinet meeting. The cabinet meeting was presided by [Lord] Mountbatten. There was Jawaharlal Nehru, there was Sardar Patel, there was Sardar Baldev Singh. There were other ministers whom I did not know and did not want to know, because I had nothing to do with them. Sardar Baldev Singh I knew because he was the minister for defence, and I knew Sardar Patel, because Patel would insist that V.P. Menon [Secretary in the Ministry of States] take me with him to the various states.”
The young brigadier continues his narration: “At the morning meeting [Mountbatten] handed over the (Instrument of Accession) thing. Mountbatten turned around and said, ‘come on Manekji (he called me Manekji instead of Manekshaw), what is the military situation?' I gave him the military situation, and told him that unless we flew in troops immediately, we would have lost Srinagar, because going by road would take days, and once the tribesmen got to the airport and Srinagar, we couldn't fly troops in. Everything was ready at the airport.”
The future hero of Bangladesh war then recalls: “As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, 'Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away'. Nehru said,' Of course, I want Kashmir. Then [Patel] said 'Please give your orders'. And before he could say anything Sardar Patel turned to me and said, 'You have got your orders'.”
Four years later, Tawang found its own 'Patel' in Jairamdas Daulatram, the Governor of Assam.
Daulatram ordered a young Naga officer to go and set up the Government of India’s administration in Tawang area (then Kameng Frontier Agency). Only later did Daulatram mention the operation to Nehru; by then, the job was done.
A couple of years ago, an Indian journalist Sidharth Mishra wrote an article entitled, Forgotten: The man who won us Tawang, about a Naga officer, Major Bob Khathing who headed the operation.
On the occasion of Khathing’s 100th birth anniversary, Mishra provided a fascinating and detailed profile of the officer who later served in the Indian Frontier Administrative Service.
Mishra explains: “In 1951, Major Bob Khathing commanded a force of 200 soldiers and re-established India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh, much to the annoyance of Jawaharlal Nehru.”
As Mishra’s article has a few inexactitudes, I am posting today extracts of the ‘official’ biography Khathing entitled Major Bob Khathing — The profile of a Nationalist Manipuri Naga, by Lt. Col. H. Bhuban Singh (published by Pritam Haoban publisher in Imphal in 1992).
An incident mentioned by Mishra is worth commenting. It appears that once the administration of Tawang firmly under control (wrongly written ‘Towang’ by Khathing), the bold Naga officer went back to Shillong to report to his mentor, Jairamdas Daulatram.
Once the expedition was over, Bob had a final task to do — to go back to the Governor and inform him that he had carried out his duty without firing a shot (except for the fireworks to create the ‘Voice of God’). So, he set out downhill to Tezpur with a small retinue, leaving the expeditionary force in charge of [Major T.C.] Allen. The Governor sent a Dakota to pick him up from Tezpur and they flew to Delhi to see Jawaharlal Nehru.The story continues:
The then Prime Minister 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. I want a complete blackout on this incident,’ he ordered the PMO.Nehru’s orders were religiously executed: today practically impossible to find anything on Khathing’s expedition in the Indian Archives.
It is however not correct to say that Nehru did not know anything about the happenings in Tawang in the first months of 1951.
Lt. Col. H. Bhuban Singh, Khathing’s biographer wrote:
From Bob’s side too, wireless messages after wireless messages were sent to Charduar [Assam Rifles headquarters], Shillong [seat of the Governor of Assam responsible for NEFA] and onward to New Delhi giving details of what he was doing. At the same time, he sought approval of Government of India for the actions he had taken and intended to take. Shillong and New Delhi were aghast with what Bob did. They must have preferred a peaceful, non-violent and Panchsheel type of approach. While Shillong was reduced to a mere post-office forwarding information only, lots of consultations and conferences took place in New Delhi and lots of tea were drunk without any decision. In the meanwhile, Bob was told by Shillong to be patient and understanding and above all, sympathetic [with the local population], as if he had terrorized the local people. He was further instructed not to precipitate a crisis.
Nehru, being the External Affairs Minister was bound to have been regularly informed by Haksar.
How could a joint secretary have taken such important decisions (or non-decisions) without referring this issue to his minister?
It is however possible that when Jairamdas Daulatram decided to send more than hundred troops of the Assam Rifles (with more than 600 porters) to Tawang, Nehru did not realize the implications of this decisive action for the nation. Retrospectively, it was a blessing for India, as if he had realize, Tawang would probably today be Chinese.
However, Nehru certainly knew about the happenings in Tawang once the operations had started.
Datta wrote: “In continuation of Shri N.K. Rustomji’s demi-official No.CGA.6/51, dated 3rd April 1951, I am directed to enclose here with a copy of a detailed report from Major Khathing for the information of the Government of India.”
Nehru may have said: “Who asked you to do this? I wish you had the good sense to consult me before you commissioned this colossal stupidity”, but the fact remains that he was informed when as the expedition was progressing.
However it was legally the prerogative of the Governor of Assam to occupy any Indian territory under his responsibility and Tawang was definitely part of Indian since 1914.
So, what was wrong occupying a part of India's territory?
Another point which is rarely mentioned is the local Monpas where delighted by the arrival of the Khathing expedition. The Tibetan ‘administration’ only consisted in forcefully collected taxes, which the local people often could not afford to pay; the corvee tax (ula) was particularly unpopular.
Interestingly, for years the Chinese government did not react to the Khathing expedition.
A Chinese study on the McMahon line admits: “Not being clear about the Indo-Tibetan border is clearly reflected in the map drawn by the troop that invaded Tibet.” The study further explains:
Regarding the map that the PLA used while invading Tibet, when the 18th Army led by Zhang Guohua invaded Tibet, they still did not have a Tibetan map that they could use. They only had a rough and simple map of Tibet showing subdivisions. There was not even a standard road map. The names of the places and the villages were neither precise nor accurate. This map was found in the archives of the resource committee of the KMT [Kuomintang]; it was made by the British by doing air survey. On the top was inscribed the route followed by Zhao Erfeng while he invaded Tibet [in 1910].Later it was discovered that the map contained many mistakes:
If we waged a war using this map, there was no way that we could win’, remarked an officer. Then, the Chief of Staff of the 18th Army, Maj. Gen. Li Jue decided that the PLA needed to form a group for surveying and drawing a proper map as soon as possible; in order to study the terrain, Tibet’s landform and prepare an accurate map. On 23 July 1950, after the front line reached Garze [Kangtse], the first team to survey and draw the map of Tibet was formed.It is only in 1954 that the Communist regime in Beijing discovered the old KMT maps claiming the entire NEFA as Chinese territory.
But to come back to Nehru’s role, he was certainly informed, though perhaps not at the initial stage. Thanks to the guts of Bob Khathing, it was impossible for Nehru to later back out and deny the existence of the 1914 border Agreement between Tibet and India.
Extracts of Major Bob Khathing — The profile of a Nationalist Manipuri Naga, by Lt. Col. H. Bhuban Singh (published by Pritam Haoban publisher in Imphal in 1992).
On 6th February, Bob left for Tawang. The distance from Jang to Tawang was 12 miles. The initial climb of 2 miles was very steep and this was followed by a gradual climb of 4 miles upto Sarul ranges. At a bridge across a small stream, before the final climb to Tawang started, the Indian Expedition party was received by representatives of Tsona Dzongpen. The Expedition party camped outside Tawang near Gyankar. The day was the Tibetan New Year Day (First Day of Iron Hare year). In the evening, there was a heavy snow fall and the villagers commented that it was a very good omen.
Next day in the early morning, Khathing accompanied by Captain Limbu and Shri Katuk Lama went to western and then eastern upper slopes which overlooked the ancient Tawang monastery to select a site for the establishment of a permanent administrative headquarters of Assistant Political Officer of Sela Sub-Agency. The selected site should have sufficient area to house a small military cantonment, police lines, civil lines, office accommodation, residential accommodation, schools, hospital and so on, In addition,, a parade-cum-playground would also be required, which would consume lot of area. No suitable site was found as the ground was too undulated and broken.
In the afternoon, porters were paid and most of them returned to Dirang area. There was shortage of money too. So, some of the porters, who came from Dirang Dzong proper and nearby villages, were told to get payment from Transport Superintendent, Dirang Dzong. With the departure of about 600 (six hundred) porters, the camp locked deserted. The military component of Bob’s party was a company of Assam Rifles less one platoon, and therefore had more than 100 (one hundred ) men. In addition, the civilian official component was also over 20 (twenty) men. So with arms, ammunition, tentage, ration, camp furniture office equipment documents and stationery etc. the number of porters required was large. Tawang, with just about 300 houses then might have a population of about 2000. The presence of Bob’s party of nearly 800 with a substantial number of armed personnel must have been formidable and awesome.
The morning of the next day, that is, 8th February 1951 was again spent on reconnaissance for site selection, with Captain Limbu in tow. At last, a suitable site was located in the area north-east of Tawang monastery with sufficient area for playground etc. and having a good water source. The area was wasteland or khasland, but it seemed to Bob that the NEFA administration had to pay compensation for acquiring the land.
In the afternoon, Bob got busy on the job for which he had been sent and come. He called the Tibetan and monastery officials for a meeting. Notices were served on the two Dzongpens and other officials. Since intelligence reports indicated that the Tibetan officials did not like the Indian presence and had accordingly warned the local Monpas from co-operating with the Indians. There upon the newly arrived Assistant Political Officer of Sela Sub-Agency decided on a show of strength. He informed Charduar and Shillong about what was happening and sought clear-cut orders to implement the amalgamation of Tawang area to India, by force, If necessary.
Despite the fact that the local Monpas had close religious and cultural ties with Tibet and despite knowing the fact that Tibetan susceptibilities might be wounded, Bob was determined to flex his muscle. A nice high-ground close to Tawang Monastery, the seat of power, was selected for meeting the Dzongpens, elders and local people. Bob marched his troops from campsite to the meeting place. His one hundred riflemen formed a box completely encircling the high-gound, a reminder of pre-Napoleanic battle formations. On Instruction from Bob, Captain Hem Bahadur Limbu ordered “fix bayonet” to his troops. One hundred “click” sounds of bayonets coming in unison seemed to say “we are even ready for blood”. The shining bayonet blades reflected flickeringly the golden rays of the setting sun in a cloudless afternoon of 8 February 1951 at Tawang. The Dzongpens and officials did not attend the meeting. But they must had been watching the scene from peep-holes of the monastery, and receiving the message, However, the crowd which had gathered, must had realized which camp to side with.
Exuding supreme confidence and exhibiting rare charm, Bob held court for the crowd which included some elders and leaders as also women and children. He spoke to them through interpreter. He told them that the people should not have any apprehension about any interference on their monastic rituals and functioning. Religious freedom was assured by him now and also for future too on behalf of the new administration. He explained to them that the constitution of the new Republic of India tolerated religious freedom and even Godlessness and irreligiousness, As Indians, they would enjoy the same rights and privileges as enjoyed by, say, a Bengali, or a Bihari, or a Maratha, or a Punjabi. All Indians were equal, he hammered into the brains of the Monpas. It is arguably conjectured here that Bob’s Mongoloid features and tribal frankness must had produced electrifying trust in what he said to fellow Mongoloid Indians of Tawang. Had a clever and highly qualified say, a Punjabi A.P.O. been sent to Tawang, it is doubtful if he could had been as successful as Bob, This great Republic of India, inhabited by people of Aryan stock of Mongoloid origin, of Dravidian ancestry and of Negroid family (Andamanis etc) must be made greater and fully integrated. Unfortunately India will never be integrated unless there is a sense of all-round participation in government and the sharing of common national responsibility by all section of the people. The key to national integration are participation, belongingness and joint responsibility. Big words uttered in National integration. Council meetings speak less and mean nothing. Action speaks more and effectively too.
Bob, the intensely patriotic Indian tribal from Manipur, talked unmistakably in tough words. He said that no representative of Tibetan Government could exercise power any longer over the people inhabiting areas south of Bumla Range, which he considered, was the McMahon Line. They would not pay any more tax to the Dzongpens. Instead, they would pay only Rs.5/- per annum per house. They would also enjoy liberal Indian Administration as free citizens. He informed them that no one was above law and all were equal before the eye of law.
Whether Bob subjugated the people of Tawang or liberated them from serfdom is for the world to decide. But one thing is very clear-that is, Bob did his job. Nari Rustomji, in his own words, said that the Government of India could not have found a fitter man than Bob for this job. The crowd welcomed and cheered Bob’s announcements, while the Dzongpens and Tibetan officials sulked. Sure enough. The Dzongpens sent message to Lasha [Lhasa] who in turn complained to India’s Consul General in Lasha, and ultimately, the complaint went to the External Affairs Ministry through Gangtok in Sikkim. From Bob’s side too, wireless messages after wireless messages were sent to Charduar, Shillong and onward to New Delhi giving details of what he was doing. At the same time, he sought approval of Government of India of the actions he had taken and intended to take. Shillong and New Delhi were aghast with what Bob did. They must had preferred a peaceful, non-violent and Panchsheel type of approach. While Shillong was reduced to a mere post-office forwarding information only, lots of consultations and conferences took place in New Delhi and lots of tea were drunk without any decision. In the meanwhile, Bob was told by Shillong to be patient and understanding and above all sympathetic, as if he had terrorized the local people. He was further instructed not to precipitate a crisis.
To read the report of the entire expedition, click here...