Major Ranenglao Khathing, MC, MBE made Tawang a part of India in February 1951.

As late as 1951, the entire area up to Dirang Dzong was under Tibetan administration, long after the Indian tricolour had been hoisted at the Red Fort on 15 August 1947. Dzong in Tibetan means a fort, where sat the magistrates or dzongpens to administer the area. That is why the Chinese had once stated that Tawang would have been their territory had it not been for Manipuri adventurer Major Bob Khathing who, in 1951, occupied the area for India. The truth is that while the McMahon Line was laid as early as 1914 between British India and Tibet, with the Chinese refusing to participate in the deliberations, it had never been demarcated — meaning the border lines were never laid out on the ground. That was when Khathing became a legend in his own lifetime.

The map showing India’s northern frontier as in 1950 when the Indian Constitution came into force (Courtesy: Frontline)

…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. Summoned by then Assam governor Jairamdas Daulatram, he 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 Dzongpens 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. Tawang was reached on 7 February and 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. Khathing told me in 1985 when I’d accompanied him on his last trip to Tawang that, left with no option, he told Captain Limbu to order his troops to fix bayonets and stage a flag march around Tawang to show he meant business. By the evening it had the desired effect and the Tibetan officials and elders of the monastery came to meet him. They were then given notice that the Tsona Dzongpens or any representatives of the Tibetan government could no longer exercise any power over the people living south of the Bumla range.

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 Dzongpens 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. [via here]

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.