ADMINISTERING THE FRONTIER

First and foremost, the author deserves a thumping commendation for undertaking this book even as he approaches his mid-nineties. And further, he needs to be thanked for throwing light on a crucial period of India’s post- Independence developments related to Tibet and its usurper, China, which to say the least, continues to be India’s large hegemonic and troublesome neighbour.

This book is an account of Maj. Johorey’s extraordinary journey of service life, which inspired his younger fellow Bengal Sapper, Gen Banerjee, to record it in the form of this book. Staying clear of personal matters, this book is a narrative of public events involving Maj. Johorey, spanning the period of the late 1930s to mid-1980s. The book also reveals many other interesting and not very widely known aspects and drawbacks of India’s administration of its remote regions.

Standing tall and impeccably dressed to date, Maj. Johorey began his professional career in the Army’s Corps of Engineers. Serving in the North Eastern region, he also became an active mountaineer. Post independence, the British majority in the Indian Civil Service went home. As the Indian Political Service officers considered suitable for frontier service were also reduced to very few Indians, a call was sent to the Army, Navy and Air Force for volunteers to be selected as frontier administrative officers. Maj. Johorey was one of them who was selected for the erstwhile Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS). That is how he landed in NEFA (North East Frontier Agency and present day Arunachal Pradesh) and thereafter came diplomatic assignments in Tibet and Afghanistan, and top civil service assignments in Goa and Delhi Administration.

Maj. Johorey recalls then Prime Minister Nehrutelling the officers selected for IFAS: “The staff must go along with the flag and the typewriters can follow later on. That is it, physically and literally.” Johorey recounts how the first batch of 14 officers received some training and proceeded to Shillong where they were briefed by the Governor, the Chief Minister of Assam and various heads of the departments. Johorey and two of his colleagues had been given the charge to ‘administrate’ the Siang Frontier Division with Along as a base. The description of journeying to their jobs is amazing. Landing at Rowria airfield in Jorhat, Assam, they had to wait because they could not walk to Along as there were no roads. The Brahmaputra River had eroded the banks and damaged all the
approaches. With no bridge on the Brahmaputra at that time, Pasighat could only be reached after a five-day journey by mule track. Some of the villages were very new where no administration had ever reached. They had never seen a coin. They had no medicines. The new administrators had a small protective escort of the Assam Rifles, the first classic paramilitary force. In each NEFA district headquarters, Assam Rifles, then under the Ministry of External Affairs, had the responsibility to guard the government treasuries. There was a major problem of distribution of salt. Earlier the tribal population had to walk for weeks to reach Tibet to get salt. Sometimes, tribals visited the plains of Assam to barter goods. Such were the early days of the IFAS.

While so much has happened since those days, the great irony is that not much is known, thanks to the Nehruvian philosophy of keeping the public and even those in the Government, uninformed. One way of doing it is by continuing to keep documents classified, while another is to make them disappear. Much of India’s important history has been kept under wraps only to hide the failings of government/politico-bureaucratic combine. Maj. Johorey admitted that some of his own notes could not be accessed.

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