In a significant move, the Indian Army’s Gajraj Corps unveiled a bust of Major Ralengnao ‘Bob’ Khathing at Yangste in the Tawang Sector of Arunachal Pradesh on Friday. This is close to where a scuffle between Indian Army soldiers and personnel of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) occurred on December 9.
According to a tweet by the Tezpur-based Gajraj or IV Corps under the Army’s Eastern Command, the bust was unveiled at an altitude of 16,000 feet by Corps commander Lt Gen DS Rana.
Few people know of Maj Khathing – India’s first diplomat from the tribal community. It was in 1950 that Maj Khathing, then in charge of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), took over the Tawang region and the Bum La area and formally incorporated them with India. NEFA is what Arunachal Pradesh was called at that time.
China, however, continues to maintain that Arunachal Pradesh is South Tibet and part of its territory, despite the McMahon Line (the Line of Actual Control) that demarcates the boundary between the two countries.
“This may be a symbolic gesture but it has great significance. It will remind China that Arunachal Pradesh ceded with India by choice and not through the use of force. Hindi is the language spoken in Arunachal Pradesh and it is the second language taught in schools. Residents of the state are immensely patriotic and deny that the cultures or traditions of any of their tribes have any links to the country across the LAC. In fact, it is the only state in the northeastern part of India that has adopted Hindi as a means of communication,” a former diplomat based in Kolkata said.
Maj Khathing was born in Ukhrul, Manipur, in 1912. After completing his graduation from Cotton College, Guwahati, as the first tribal from Manipur to do so, he joined the British Army.
After serving in World War II, he worked for the erstwhile government of Manipur (before the state’s assimilation into the Indian Union).
He then took over as assistant commandant of the 2nd Battalion of the Assam Rifles before being appointed the assistant political officer of NEFA. It was then that Maj Khathing took administrative control of Tawang and Bum La.
He was security commissioner of NEFA during the 1962 Sino-India War. He also served as the Chief Civil Liaison Officer of the IV Corps (Gajraj Corps) and was instrumental in the birth of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).
In 1972, he was appointed Indian Ambassador to Myanmar (then Burma). He became the first person from the tribal community to become an Ambassador.
He was honoured with the Padma Shri by the Government of India. Maj Khathing passed away at Mantripukhri, Manipur in 1990.