Friday, August 10, 2012

The Himmatsinghji Committee Report

If  the Henderson-Brooks report is the symbol of the over-classification of the Indian archives, it is not the only 'secret report' to remain in the drawers of the ministries of Defence or External Affairs in North or South blocks.
The Himmatsinghji Committee Report is another of such reports which should have been made public long ago.
Here is the background of the Report of the Himmatsinghji Committee.
Unfortunately, we have very few details about the findings of Committee which, besides Major-General Himmatsinghji, Deputy Minister of Defence (Chairman), included Lt.-General Kulwant Singh, K. Zakaria, Head of the Historical Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, S.N. Haksar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Group Capt. M.S. Chaturvedi from the Indian Air Force and Waryam Singh, Deputy Director of the Intelligence Bureau.
B.N. Mullik, the Intelligence Chief says in his China’s Betrayal: My Years with Nehru that the decision to form a Committee followed a note “New Problems of Internal Security” sent by the Intelligence Bureau as well as the letter of Sardar Patel, which “were considered by all the Ministries concerned within the next seven days”.
The latter is probably true.
According to Mullik, two main decisions were taken:
  1. A small committee of military experts with a representative of the IB in Shillong would visit the NEFA agencies and propose the places near the frontier at which the Assam Rifles units should be posted.
  2. A high-powered committee presided over by the Deputy Minister of Defence, Major-General Himmatsinghji, with representatives of Defence, Communication, Home, External Affairs and the IB would be formed to study the problems created by the Chinese aggression in Tibet and to make recommendations about the measures that should be taken to improve administration, defence, communication, etc. of all the frontier areas.
This Committee, known as the North and North East Border Defence Committee sent its report in two parts. Mullik explains:
The first part consisted of its recommendations regarding Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA and the Eastern frontier bordering Burma. This part was submitted in April, 1951. The second part contained the recommendations on Ladakh and the frontier regions of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal and was submitted in September, 1951.
Mullik has often to be taken with a pinch of salt, having the habit to justify his own decisions and actions first; in this case however, there is no reason to doubt his words when he says:
The Himmatsinghji Committee also had before it the recommendations which had been made by a smaller Committee formed in Assam to assess the dangers in NFFA and suggest the possibility of pushing the Assam Rifles Posts as far towards the frontier as possible.
It is probably this ‘smaller’ Committee which decided to do what the British had not done, to occupy Tawang.
The North and North-East Border Defence Committee carefully analyzed the nature of the frontier, the contending claims, the general situation in the border areas, the state of the administration and the appreciation of the threat. On the basis of this analysis, it laid down the principles of policy to be followed. Thereafter it made comprehensive recommendations under various heads; such as (1) Administration, (2) Development, (3) Defence and Security which included the Army and the Air Force, (4) the Civil Armed Forces including the Assam Rifles and other police units, (5) Communications, and (6) Intelligence. According to Mullik:
With regard to the state of the frontier and the contending claims, …at that time the knowledge about the alignment of the frontier was not as accurate as it was after the study made in 1960-61. Regarding the threats and dangers from this undemarcated frontier, the state of administration in these areas and also the threats and dangers arising out of the Chinese presence in Tibet, the Committee came to the same conclusion as [drawn] by the IB in its note of November, 1950, and also Sardar Patel's letter.
The Committee also recommended the reorganization of the administrative divisions of NEFA, the opening of new districts, and increase in the staff manning new posts, the extension of these administrative centres further towards the McMahon Line and the formation of a Frontier Service cadre for service in the frontier areas.
The Himmatsinghji Committee further recommended an important increase in the Assam Rifles and the Civil Armed Police and the deployment of the Assam Rifles and other Armed Police units in larger concentration at strategic points from which effective patrolling could be regularly undertaken.
The Committee also suggested the construction of new roads and the improvement of existing ones to link the Assam Rifles posts with headquarters.
The State Governments were to extend modern administration right up to the frontier and this without interfering with the customs and the ways of life of the tribal people. However new schools and dispensaries were to be opened at the earliest.

Still a classified report
Sixty-one years after the Himmatsinghji report was presented to the Government, it is still a secret. Better, the Report seems to have been lost by the Ministry of Defence.
In November 2011, one Anil Mukherjee applied under the Right to Information Act to see the Report of Himmatsinghji Committee.
In its order, the Central Information Commission stated:
Shri P.K. Gupta [Director, Vigilance in the Ministry of Defence] submits a letter dated 12.10.2011 before the Commission which is taken on record. The operative paras of the letter are reproduced below:
I am directed to refer to CIC order File No. CIC/LS/A/2011/001106 dated 05.09.2011 and state that none of the remaining five reports viz-a-viz - (1) PMS Blackett Report 1948; (2) Himmatsinghji Committee Report, 1951; (3) HM Patel Committee report on functioning of the Ministry of Defence(MOD), 1952; (4) Sharda Mukherjee Committee report on restructuring of MoD, 1967 and (5) Committee on Defence expenditure report, 1990 are available in the Ministry of Defence. This is issued with the approval of Defence Secretary .
The Ministry of Defence admitted: “It is, thus, clear that the reports mentioned at Sl. Nos. 01 to 04 and 06 of the RTI application are not available with the MoD and the question of supplying them to the appellant does not arise.”
Practically, does it mean that the Himmatsinghji Committee Report is lost forever? For the CIC, the conclusion was:
However, the issue raised by the appellant regarding the alleged loss/mislaying of the Reports mentioned at Sl. Nos. 1 to 4 and 6 of the RTI application by the MoD cannot be disregarded. The MoD has not denied existence of these Reports; it has simply indicated their non-availability. Needless to say, the Reports deal with sensitive national security related issues and their 'non-availability' in the MoD is a serious matter. In the premises, it is ordered that a copy of this order be sent to the Defence Secretary for information and appropriate action at his end.
As usual, the ministry’s babus will seat on this order till their retirement.
The Himmatsinghji Report being will continue to be missing in action in the vaults or almirahs of the Ministry of Defence.

The take-over of Tawang
More than 60 years, later, it is still not clear who ordered the take-over of Tawang, but is probably the first Committee. At the end of 1950, the entire area down to Dirang Dzong (South of the Sela Pass) was still under some vague Tibetan administration, with the Tibetan Dzongpon of Tsona in Tibet, collecting 'monastic' taxes from time to time in and around Tawang.
It is there that Major Bob Khathing of the Assam Rifles entered the scene.
Born on 28 February 1912, in Ukhrul district of today's Manipur, Ranenglao (Bob) Khathing belonged to the Tangkhul Naga tribe.
In 1942, Khathing joined the newly raised Assam Regiment in Shillong and became a captain. Later he was told by Sir Akbar Hydari, the first Governor of Assam after Independence to join the Assam Rifles.
He served with the 2nd Assam Rifles in Sadiya and by 1951 he was inducted into the Indian Frontier Administrative Service as an Assistant Political Officer (APO).
We are quoting here from an excellent article written by Yambem Laba in The Imphal Free Press.
Summoned by then Assam governor Jairamdas Daulatram, [Khathing] was asked, “Do you know Tawang?” He was then given a 'secret' file to study and told to “go and bring Tawang under Indian administration”. This task could not be implemented by the British for 50-odd years.
On 17 January 1951, Khathing, accompanied by Captain Hem Bahadur Limbu of 5th Assam Rifles and 200 troops and Captain Modiero of the Army Medical Corps left Lokra for the foothills, bound for Tawang. They were later joined by a 600-strong team of porters.
On 19 January, they reached Sisiri and were joined by Major TC Allen, the last British Political Officer of the North East Frontier Agency. Five days later the party reached Dirang Dzong, the last Tibetan administrative headquarters, and were met by Katuk Lama, Assistant Tibetan Agent, and the Goanburras  of Dirang. On 26 January, Major Khathing hoisted the Indian flag and a barakhana  followed. The party stayed in Dirang for four days, during which time they received airdrops.
On 1 February, they moved out and halted at Chakpurpu on their way to Sangje Dzong. On the third day, they made a five-mile climb to cross Sela pass and pressed on to what was entered in Khathing’s diary as the ‘Tea Place’ where water could be collected from the frozen surface to make tea. By 7.30 pm, the party closed in on Nurunang.
On 4 February, they reached Jang village where two locals were sent out to collect information and gauge the people’s feelings towards their coming. The next day, the headmen and elders of Rho, Changda and the surrounding villages of Jang called on Khathing, who lost no time in explaining the purpose of his visit and told them in no uncertain terms that they were no longer to take orders from the Tsona Dzongpens. That day, he, Captain Limbu, Subedar Bir Bahadur and Jamadar Udaibir Gurung climbed about half a mile on the Sela Tract to choose the site for the checkpost and construct a barracks.
On 6 February they camped at Gyankar and Tibetan representatives of the Tsona Dzongpons came to meet them. It was also Tibetan New Year or Lhosar, the first day of the Year of the Iron Horse. In the evening it snowed heavily and the villagers took this as a very good omen.
The Assam Rifles of Bob Khathing finally reached on February 7.
…two days were spent scouting the area for a permanent site where both civil and military lines could be laid out with sufficient area for a playground. A place was chosen north-east of Tawang Monastery and a meeting with Tibetan officials was scheduled for 9 February, but they had shown a reluctance to accept Indian authority overnight.
The journalist of the The Imphal Free Press remembers Khathing telling him in 1985 (he had accompanied Khathing on his last trip to Tawang) that he had no option, but to order Captain Limbu to ask his troops to fix the bayonets and stage a flag march around Tawang “to show he [Khathing] means business”.
Apparently, it had the desired effect and in the evening the Tibetan officials and elders of the monastery came to meet the Political Officer; they were told that from now on the Tsona Dzongpons or any representatives of the Tibetan government would no longer exercise any power south of Bumla.
The article continues:
On 11 February, Khathing visited the monastery, called on the abbot and presented him and the other monks gifts that comprised gramophone players, cloth and tiffin-carriers. The next day all the chhgergans (officials) of the 11 tsos  or Tibetan administrative units were called up and a general order was issued directing them not to take any more order from the Dzongpons or Drekhong or pay tribute to them any longer. That afternoon, Tibetan officials and the Nyertsang called for time and permission to exercise their authority till they heard from the Tibetan government in Lhasa. Khathing put his foot down and told them the ‘area is ours according to the Treaty of 1914’ and there was no question of a reply from their government in Lhasa and, hence, no extension could be given. Thus did Tawang effectively become a part of India from that day on.
Some rumours have recently circulated that Nehru did not know about the operation; it would mean a truly serious lapse as the Assam Rifles worked directly under the Ministry of External Affairs and Nehru was then the Minister.
It is possible, but it is certain that a 'military' operation of this scale needed the approval and funds of the Central Government.
Did Patel and Bajpai (the Secretary of the Ministry) decided the operation on their own and ordered Jairamdas Daulatram accordingly?
It is impossible to answer this question unless the related files are declassified, but it is a possibility.
The website of the Assam Rifles states: “Following the end of the war, the five Assam Rifles battalions became part of the civil police under the Assam Inspector General of Police. After independence, however, the Indian government assigned the Assam Rifles its own Inspector General. The Assam Rifles were then placed under command of the Ministry of External Affairs as part of the North Eastern Frontier Agency."
Nehru was the then Minister of External Affairs.
Was it Bajpai's last homage to Sardar Patel who had passed away on December 15 and who had understood the meaning of integrating all territories belonging to the Union of India? The fact is that it had been realized by a few in Delhi that a ‘thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power’ was knocking at India's doors.
We have another version of Khathing taking-over of Tawang: Neeru Nanda an IAS officer who had a posting in Tawang wrote an excellent book on the area. She says:
Soon after independence Major Bob Khating, a Naga officer of the Indian Frontier Service and the Deputy Commissioner [then known as Assistant Political Officer] of Bomdila, marched into Tawang. He was greeted warmly by representatives of the Tawang monastery, the three tsorgens (heads) of Choksum (the three chos ) and other noted leaders who welcomed him with open arms when he declared the intention of the Indian government to establish a permanent office and headquarters in the area. After watching the working of the office and men for about a month the leaders came to him quietly in a deputation with folded hands and grave faces.
Nanda continues:
‘Well sahib’, they said, ‘we have been watching your work and we like it but there is something that makes us very suspicious.’
‘What is it?’ a startled Major Khating asked, wondering what had gone amiss.
‘Sahib’, they said melancholically, ‘you do not take anything from us by way of tax, neither do you seem to be proposing to take any. This is causing grave concern to all of us.’
The sahib relaxed visibly. ‘Is that all?’ he said cheerfully and drawing himself to his full height, delivered a long lecture on how there was only one country and one government that was not exploitative. The Indian government considered itself specially bound to develop the brothers and sisters of border areas, who had been neglected so far by the Britishers.
I was personally told that the truth is that it is the Monpas of Tawang who called the Indian Government to intervene and stop the tax collections of the Tsongpons. They had written to Shillong about it. It is perhaps the secret file shown by the Governor to Khathing. Nanda concludes:
The village elders heard him out politely and respectfully and after he had delivered his sermon they folded their hands, again bowed before him and said, ‘Well sahib, all this is very good. But the villager is illiterate, foolish and ignorant. He will not understand a government that abstains from taxation-so even if it is a very petty amount, you must take a tax.’
It was thus, the story goes, that the system of house-tax was instituted whereby each household paid Rs 5 annually to the government and this is the only tax collected in Tawang till today.
Major Khating was true to the frontier tradition of not interfering as far as possible with the local institutions. But he did appoint a gaon budha (village headman) in each village in addition to the traditional pattern where there was a gaon budha only for each cho (group of three to tell villages). The administrative divisions of Tawang were also formed in such a way so as to coincide, as far as possible, with the traditional political divisions.
The Monpas had for centuries one of the most remarkable ‘democratic’ system which was functioning despite the raids of the Tibetan tax collectors or the Bhutanese neighbours 'visiting' the Land of Mon from time to time.
The Chinese 'Liberation' Army arrived in Lhasa on September 1951, just a few months after Khathing had taken the control of Tawang.
One can imagine what would have happened if Khathing had not ‘liberated’ Tawang and the areas around in time.

No comments: