Major Ralengnao “Bob” Khathing - the first tribal Ambassador from North-East India

Major Ralengnao Khathing (1912-1990) 
He used his distinguished military background and exemplary diplomatic skills to win over the locals in Arunachal Pradesh and brought Tawang, one of the most sought after tourist destinations in North-east India, under Indian administration, four years after Independence. He also went on to become India's first ambassador to Myanmar, as well as, the first ambassador to be appointed from Northeast of India. Read the story of Major Ralengnao Khathing, a hero who is forgotten by his own countrymen.

Major Ralengnao “Bob” Khathing, hailing from Manipur, a state in the North-east of India, had served the Army with distinction in the Second World War as an officer of the British Army, and later, went on to become the Indian Ambassador to Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1970s. He was conferred the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award by Indian Government in 1957.

Born at Ukhrul on Feb 8th, 1912, into a well-educated Tangkhul family, he received his primary education at Ukhrul. He had to travel almost 73 miles everyday for his education. He passed his 10th from Johnstone High School, Imphal and did his graduation from Calcutta University (Bishop Cotton College, Guwahati). He became the first graduate among the hill peoples in Manipur.

As a young King’s Commission Officer of the Indian Army during World War-II, he was the Commissioner to the 19th Hyderabad Regiment (which became the Kumaon Regiment) but was soon deployed to ‘V’ force Ops as Local Captain, Manipur Sector, to operate behind enemy lines on the Burma front. Amongst the many gallantry awards he received, he was conferred Member of the British Empire (MBE) and the Military Cross (MC).

After the War following the desire of the Maharaja of Manipur, Maj Khathing resigned from the Army to join the Interim Govt of Manipur as Minister in charge of Hills Administration. In 1948, in the first election of the State, he was elected to the Manipur Assembly from the Sadar constituency and made Minister (Hills Administration & Manipur Rifles). However, the Assembly was dissolved when Manipur joined the Indian Union in October, 1949.

The year 1950 saw Major Khathing taking over as Assistant Commandant of 2 Bn Assam Rifles posted at Sadiya where he experienced the great earthquake of Assam at its epicentre. During this calamity, he was actively involved in bringing normalcy in the affected area.

The same year, he was appointed Assistant Political Officer of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). On being posted to Sela Sub Agency, he was assigned the unfinished task of securing administrative control up to the McMahon Line. In 1951, taking two platoons of 5 Assam Rifles, he trekked all the way to Tawang and for the first time planted the Indian flag at Tawang, thus becoming the first Indian officer to have hoisted the Tricolour in Tawang and establishing Indian Administrative control of the town and area of Bumla on the McMahon Line, four years after Independence. Khathing's administrative skills and courageous move are still talked about in the Tawang-Bomdila-Tenga areas of Arunachal Pradesh. A place in Bomdila, called Khathing Point is named after this brave hero.

With the setting up of the Indian Frontier Administration Service (IFAS), Bob Khathing was amongst the first two officers to be confirmed in the IFAS in 1953.

Thereafter, he was posted as the Political Officer of the Tuensang Frontier Division in 1954. During this term he was responsible for setting up the Village Volunteer Force. In 1957, he was posted as the first Deputy Commissioner of Mokokchung district.

In 1961, he joined the second course of the National Defence College, becoming the first citizen to do so. On completion of the course, he was posted to Sikkim as the Development Commissioner in 1962.

However, after a few months, when the Indo-China War took place, he asked for and was transferred as Security Commissioner, NEFA, and was also Chief Civil Liaison Officer with the Army 4 Corps, Tezpur. He had an active role in the establishment of the SSB. In 1967, Khathing was posted as the Chief Secretary of Nagaland. During this term, the Nagaland Armed Police was established and he helped in the raising of the Naga Regiment.

In 1972, he was sent as Ambassador of India to Burma, becoming the first tribal to be appointed as Ambassador. Returning to India in 1975, he turned down offers of gubernatorial post. He, however, served as the Advisor to the Governor of Manipur, and on honorary basis as the Chairman, Tribal Law Commission and Administrative Reforms Commission, as well as the Chairman of the Administrative Commission, Nagaland.

In all his assignments, he never sought or asked for acknowledgment or recognition and considered his achievements as simply a result of commitment to his people and the country. He was conferred the Padmashree in 1957, in its second year of inception. He breathed his last at his home, Valley View Mantripukhri, Imphal, on January 12, 1990.

Apart from many other talent, Major Khathing was also a poet and few of his creations have been converted to songs and sung by the new generation singers.

1. The Assam Tribune
2. E-Pao

A documentary on Major Ralengnao Khathing