By Yambem Laba
The Sun had passed its zennith on January 14,1990. The shadows were lengthening over ‘Valley View` on the north- eastern spurs of the Langol Range over¬looking Imphal when the bands of the Assam Rifles and the Manipur Rifles struck up Abide with me.
The casket containing the mortal remains of the man who had become a legend in his lifetime was lowered Into Its final resting place. The buglers sounded the Last Post. The place the man occupied will be difficult to fill In the post-Indepen¬dence history of India, notably in the fron¬tier states of north-eastern India. Mourners threw handfuls of earth atop the casket, the honour guard drawn from the Manipur Rifles fired thrice into the air, final salute. Major Bob Khathing`s long and eventful journey had come to an end,
Major Ralengnao Khathing, Military Cross, Member of the British Empire, Pad-mashree teacher, minister In the interim government of Manipur (1947-49), politi¬cal officer, and security commissioner of NEFA, graduate of the National Defence College, father of the special security bureau, architect of the state of Nagaland, chief secretary of Nagaland and ambas¬sador of India to Burma and the man who brought Tawang and the areas South of Bum La into the folds of Indian ad¬ministration was born on February 28,1912, and died on January 12, 1990.
His story is one of courage, dedication, honesty, leadership that has shown the path for generations to come.
Born Tangkhul Naga in the lap of the blue mountains of Ukhrul, in the eastern region of Manipur, he first studied at the Johnstone High School, Imphal. During this period he founded the Tangkhul Students` Union on June 15, 1932. It was to attend the 19th conference of this Union that he had arrived in Imphal from Shillong, a week before his death. He went on to Shillong to do his matriculation and later joined Cotton College in Guwahati from where he graduated in 1937. During this period he walked from Ukhrul to Dimapur a distance of over 3O0 kilometres to catch the train to take him to Guwahati. While in Imphal, whenever he felt homesick he would go to Langol hill and climb the tallest tree there and look eastwards towards the mountains of Ukhrul, where his village lay. He would spend the whole night on- it.
Though he failed to clear his BA examination in 193S, he was determined that he would not return home until he got his degree. He proceeded to Harashinga in Darrang District of Assam and founded a Middle Elementary School there, he also planted a tree in the compound which stands to this day. Years later he told me, ‘you see I was getting Rs. 35 per month as scholarship, it was a huge sum then’: “I lived up life and failed in my examina¬tions.” He stayed on, earning a small salary from the school and clearing the Examinations in 1937.
Then British SDO of Ukhrul, Duncan asked him to come and teach in Ukhrul. By 1939, he was the headmaster of the Ukhrul High School. When the Second World War broke out Khathing bade farewell to the blackboard to take up arms but he had already trained enough teachers to ensure that education would reach the remotest of the tribal villages in Manipur.
In 1941, Khathing was commissioned from the Officer`s Training School (OTS) into the British Indian Army. He joined the 2/19 Hyderabad regiment, which later be¬came the 9-Kumaon.
By 1942, Khathing was transferred to the Assam Regiment and promoted to Cap¬tain. It was in the officers` mess in Jorhat that Khathing got his nickname which stuck till the end. The British Officers finding it difficult to pronounce his first name Raneglao, unanimously decided to shorten it to Bob.
It was at this time that the British and Allied Forces combating the Japanese decided to raise the V-Force, a guerilla outfit in which hill people of the region were inducted, with a Allied Officer in charge. These people because of their knowledge of the topography and the ability to live off the land sometimes operated 150 miles from the nearest supp¬ly base. They Inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese behind their own lines and acted as a screen for the 14th Army of-the Allied Forces.
* Khathing was sent to command a group of the V-Force in the Ukhrul area, the place where he had roamed as a child. He shed off his army tunics and battle fatigues. Instead he shaved his head In typical Tangkhul style, a mane running down the middle and bare on both sides. He walked barefoot, carried a basket bag which con¬tained dried beef and salt to serve as ra¬tions for two weeks and with his automatic concealed under the tribal shawl. Khathing set forth. He haunted the Japanese forces. He would ambush smaller patrols himself and would direct the RAF fighters and bombers to strafe and attack bigger formations. Once he found a large Japanese group occupying his house. He straightaway indicated the location to the RAF and had his own house bombed to smithereens to ensure that none of the Japanese escaped.
In 1943, Khathing played a key role in rescuing the 50-Para Brigade which had been surrounded by Japanese forces at Shanshak. For that gallant action he was made a Member of the British Empire. In 1944 the Commander in Chiefs Gallantary Certificate came his way and he was also mentioned in two dispatches. In 1945 as the Japanese prepared for their final lunge towards Imphal, Khathing with a handful of his trusted V-Force volunteers struck rapidly over a 100 kms stretch with devastating effect. The Japanese com¬manders thought that the enemy advance was delayed. The Military Cross was awarded to him the same year.
After the War, Khathing became a Com¬pany Commander of the 3-Assam Rifles and was in the Northwest Frontier Provin¬ces when Pakistan was created in 1947. Meanwhile the British left India. Manipur was on her own. It was at this juncture that Maharaj Kumar Priyobrata took over as a Chief Minister of the interim government. His first request to the outgoing British political agent was, “Please get Major Khathing here.” Khathing left the Indian Army and was soon elected to the council in the first ever election held on adult franchise in India which took place in Manipur in 1947 and was given the post of Minister in charge of Hill Development
When Manipur merged with the Indian Union in 1949 and the Government was dissolved, Khathing in his own words was “left without a job for six months”. During this period he stayed in Imphal with Arambam Ibomcha. It was Sir Akbar Hydari, the then Governor of Assam who asked him to join the Assam Rifles as a stop gap measure. So he donned a uniform again with the 2-Assam Riles. In 1950 they were sent to look for the source of the Brahmaputra. A devastating earthquake struck, half of their party was buried alive.
Khathing survived because he ordered his men to hold hands and lie spreadeagled on the ground.
In 1951, Jairam Das who was then the Governor of Assam met him in Shillong. Das asked Khathing a simple question `do you know Tawang`? A secret file was handed to him and he was asked to study it and to go and bring Tawang under In¬dian Administration from the hands of the Tibetans. Khathing then serving as an as¬sistant political officer set forth on his journey.
Khathing was able to do what the British Government had failed to do since 1914, when the McMohan Line was first drawn up demarcating the boundary between India and Tibet. He was the man who actually laid down the McMohan Line. This was in early 1951. He then founded Bomdi La town and soon became the first Indian political officer of NEFA, taking over from Major T.C. Allen.
Between 1954 to 57 he looked after Tuensang and when the embers of Naga Insurgency began to flare up he was made the Deputy Commissioner of Mokokchung. In 1957 he was instrumental in hosting the Naga People`s Conference at Kohima. Then followed the period when the first lines were drawn up which saw the 16 points Agreement with the Govern¬ment of India and the creation of the State of Nagaland. In 1961, he attended the National Defence College and was a mem¬ber of its second batch of graduates.
In 1962, he was Developmental Com-missioner of Sikkim and when he heard of the fall of Tawang to Chinese Invader, he at once requested the Chogyal of Sikkim to relieve him and asked the Government of India to send him to the war front. Within three days he was at Tezpur and attached to the 4-Corps as the Chief Civil Liaison officer. Lt. General T.N. Kaul was in com¬mand then. In his usual style, Khathing told Kaul “I have come to report, what is my charter of duty?” Kaul was relieved in three days, time and Lt. General later Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw took charge. But before leaving Kaul in answer to Khathing`s query said “you chart out your own duty”.
The lessons of the Chinese occupation prompted Khathing who had then become, the Security Commissioner of NEFA to organise a second line of defence. He modelled it along the V-Force and the Vil¬lage Guard he had formed in Nagaland. A force which would stay behind in the oc¬cupied areas in case the Chinese overran the areas again. Thus was born the Special Security Bureau.
He came back to Nagaland as Chief Secretary in 1967. A post he held till 1972. Then Khathing embarked on yet another role. He went to neighbouring Burma as India`s ambassador at Rangoon. After dis¬charging his duties at Rangoon till 1975 he returned home and headed the Ad¬ministrative Reforms and Tribal Law Com¬mission of the Government of Manipur.
He continued to take immense interest in the welfare of the people of the North-Kast. He spent most of his time in Shillong, but often came to Manipur to be at his beloved Valley View` Cottage on the spurs of the Langol range overlooking Imphal.
He arrived in Imphal on January 4 this year. The Tangkhul Student`s Union which he had founded 57 years ago was holding its 19th Conference at Sanakeithel in Ukhrul District. He had come to Valley View to attend it, inspite of failing health.
On January 12, two days before the scheduled conference while lunching with his best friend Maharaj Kumar Priyobrata he was overcome by a fatal heart attack.
On January 14, hundreds of mourners thronged Valley View for-a final glimpse of the legend as he was taken to his final resting place.