As a young subaltern with less than two years of service posted at a remote area of the Lohit Frontier Division, I was tasked by the Commanding Officer Lt Col Gurbax Singh to personally go and meet Major Bob Khathing at Tezu and invite him to the Battalion. After travelling on a dusty Lohitpur- Tezu unmetalled road for over 20 kms, I landed at the office area and saw a tribal looking gentleman in a grey Safari standing in front of a guest house. I walked upto him and he said, “I am Bob”. Seeing such a great man my knees went weak. He said, “Son just dust off and we can have a cup of tea”.
Padmashree Major Ralengnao Khathing, Military Cross, Member of the British Empire, the man who brought Tawang and the areas South of Bum La into the fold of Indian administration, was born on February 28,1912. In May 1941, he was commissioned into the 19th Hyderabad Regiment (later 7th Kumaon Regiment). By 1942, Khathing was transferred to The Assam Regiment.
Khathing was sent to command a group of the V-Force in the Ukhrul area. He shaved his head in typical Tangkhul style. Barefoot, carrying a basket bag with dried beef and salt to serve rations for two weeks and his automatic concealed under the tribal shawl, Khathing set forth “haunting” the Japanese forces. Ambushing smaller patrols himself, he would direct the RAF fighters and bombers to straff/bomb bigger formations. Once, finding 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 Shangshak. For that gallant action he was made a Member of the British Empire. In 1944 he was awarded Commander in Chiefs Gallantary Certificate and twice Mention-in-Despatches. 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. He was awarded the Military Cross the same year.
In 1951, the Governor of Assam instructed Khathing to go to Tawang with the aim of bringing it under Indian Administration. Khathing’s arduous journey started from Charduar, Assam with a small team from 5 Assam Rifles, on 17th January 1951 and reached Tawang on 6th February 1951. This was the first expedition to negotiate extremely inhospitable terrain in sub-zero temperatures. He quickly and effectively established authority over Tawang, which had been governed by Tibet. The Indian flag was hoisted and on 9th February 1951 he announced that the Tawang area, South of the Mc. Mohan Line, formed under the Simla Treaty of 1914, had come under the charge of the Indian Government. Khathing achieved what the British Government had failed to do since 1914, when the McMohan Line was first drawn.
Between 1954 to 57 he looked after Tuensang and when the 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, leading to the Agreement with the Government of India and the creation of the State of Nagaland. On Republic Day, 1957, Khating was awarded the Padmashree.
In 1962, from his assignment as Developmental Commissioner of Sikkim, he was sent to Tezpur as Chief Civil Liaison Officer for HQ 4 Corps. Then he organised a second line of defence, modeled on the line of V-Force and the Village Guard. Thus was born the Special Security Bureau.
In 1971 he was deputed as Ambassador to Burma. In 1997 and further, he was appointed Advisor to the Governor of Manipur.
On 12 January 1990, while dining with his best friend Maharaj Kumar Priyobarta Singh, another former Assam Regiment Officer, at his cottage Valley View, Mantripokhri, Imphal, he had a fatal heart attack.
(with inputs from Lt Col Anil Bhat, VSM (retd) and Imphal based journalist Yambem Laba)