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It is entirely due to Major Bob Khathing's courage and swift action, backed by the Assam Governor, that Tawang is part of India. Had Jawaharlal Nehru had his way, it would have been Chinese territory today
While the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru is being discussed by ‘eminent’ personalities at the Nehru International Conference, organised by the Indian National Congress to commemorate Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, it is perhaps time to stop using the usual clichés about the first Prime Minister’s 17 years at India’s helm. By the way, I seriously doubt if many of the invitees of the conference have read any of the 58 volumes of Nehru’s Selected Works.
During the recent months, many have questioned the audacity to compare Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to Nehru, but it is obvious that the Sardar would have been a far more decisive Prime Minister than the Pandit. Remember Kashmir.
In a rare interview, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who was Director of Military Operations at the time of independence, recounted a historic meeting presided over by Lord Mountbatten held at the end of October 1947: “There was Jawaharlal Nehru, there was Sardar Patel, there was Sardar Baldev Singh… I knew Sardar Patel, because Patel would insist that VP 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 [Kashmir’s 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 the 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’.” Without the Sardar, Kashmir would be Pakistani today.
In February 1951, Tawang found its own ‘Patel’ in Jairamdas Daulatram, the Governor of Assam, (the Iron Man of India had passed away two months earlier). Daulatram ordered a young Naga officer to go and immediately begin administrating Tawang (the then Kameng Frontier Agency).
A couple of years ago, an Indian journalist, Sidharth Mishra, provided a fascinating and detailed profile of Major Bob Khathing, the Naga officer in charge of the Sela sub-division: “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.” Some other documents, such as the ‘official’ biography, Major Bob Khathing — The profile of a Nationalist Manipuri Naga by Lt Col H Bhuban Singh, complete the picture of Major Khathing’s expedition.
An incident mentioned by Mr Mishra is worth a comment. Once the administration of Tawang was firmly under control, the bold Naga officer went back to Shillong to report to his mentor, Jairamdas Daulatram.
Mr Mishra writes: “So, he set out downhill to Tezpur with a small retinue, leaving the expeditionary force in charge of [Major TC] Allen. The Governor sent a Dakota to pick him up from Tezpur and they flew to Delhi to see Jawaharlal Nehru... 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 it is practically impossible to find anything on Khathing’s expedition in the Government’s archives. Nehru certainly had some inkling about the happenings in Tawang in the first months of 1951. Lt Colonel Bhuban Singh 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.”
Major Khathing’s biographer added: “Shillong [Rustomji] 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… instructed not to precipitate a crisis.”
Major Khathing’s direct interlocutor was Nari Rustomji, the Advisor to the Governor of Assam for the Tribal Areas. SN Haksar, an ICS officer serving as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, was at the receiving end in New Delhi. Nehru, being the External Affairs Minister, was undoubtedly regularly informed by Haksar of such a sizeable military expedition.
It is possible that when Jairamdas Daulatram decided to send more than one hundred Assam Rifles troops (with over 600 porters) to Tawang, Nehru did not realise the implications of this decisive action for the nation. Retrospectively, it was a blessing for India as, if he had realised, Tawang would probably be Chinese today.
A top secret report entitled, ‘Major Khathing’s Detailed Report About Tawang, sent in April 1951 by the Secretary to Advisor to the Governor of Assam to SN Haksar, is the best proof that the Prime Minister was in the loop. Nehru may have said: “Who asked you to do this?”, but the fact remains that he was informed.
It is also a fact that it was legally the prerogative of the Governor of Assam to occupy any Indian territory under his responsibility and Tawang was definitely part of India since 1914. So, what was wrong in administrating a part of Indian territory?
A Chinese study on the McMahon line admitted that at that time, the Chinese had no clue about the border between India and Tibet: “When the 18th Army led by [General] 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.” It is only in 1954-55 that Mao Zedong discovered Tawang had been administrated by Tibet before 1914. Too late then for China to ‘liberate' Tawang!
And thanks to Major Bob Khathing’s courage and swift action, it was too late for even Nehru to impose his pacifist views.
This does not mean that Nehru was not a great man in many other respects.