Mr. R. Khathing has been a prominent stalwart of the north east and has made little publicised, yet outstanding contribution to the nation. He is considered one of the legends of the north east and is one of the pioneers of establishing administration in the region. He rose from a modest home in the hill town of Ukhrul,Manipur to retire from active service as the Indian Ambassador to Burma (1972-75). In between he served with distinction in a wide variety of assignments.
Pre-independence, apart from doing social work amongst his own community and in Assam, he joined the 19th Hyderabad Regiment (1942) under the King’s Commission during WWII. His Platoon Commander was the famed Gen. Thimmayya and his batch mate was Gen. T. Raina who also was later to become Chief of Staff of the Army. He was soon made the local Captain, Manipur Sector of the “V” Force Ops, which was a special counter-intelligence force under Mounbatten. His name finds mention in several books and documents on the Burma Front. Besides many gallantry awards of recognition, he was a recipient of the prestigious Military Cross (MC) and conferred Member of the British Empire (MBE) for his services.
He received Commander-in-chief Gallantry Certificate and was twice mentioned in Despatches, Military Cross, in 1942-45
On the express desire of the erstwhile Maharaja of Manipur, Major Bob Khathing as he was popularly known, resigned from the Army after the War and joined the Interim Government of Manipur State as Minister in charge of Hills Administration. In 1948, in the first elections of the state, much before any elections held in India, he was elected to the Manipur Assembly and was made Minister in charge of Hills Administration and the Manipur Rifles which he founded. In 1949, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur came under the Indian Union.
In 1950, he was appointed Assistant Commandant, 2nd Battalion, Assam Rifles, Sadia, and was at the epicentre of the great earthquake on 15th August in Assam, where he not only witnessed but experienced drastic changes of topography. He oversaw rehabilitation of affected people and areas.
Arunachal Pradesh: (Then known as North East Frontier Agency (NEFA).
In the same year, 1950, he was appointed Assistant Political Officer of NEFA. While the North West Frontier was well demarcated, the Government of India realised that the North East Frontier and borders should also be clearly established as part of the Indian Union. Khathing was sent to Tawang where he successfully raised the Indian flag in 1951, with the help of 2 Platoons of 5th Assam Rifles after crossing the Sela Pass (some 15, 000 ft above sea level), the first Indian to do so. His name is mentioned in almost all serious records on the history of Tawang. After being appointed Political Officer (1952) of Sela Sub Agency, he selected the site (1952) for and established Bomdila as his HQ. Thereafter, administration was established on a serious scale in the sensitive border areas of India with the formation of an elite service called the Indian Frontier Administrative Service, (IFAS) which at that time was under MEA. This was the foundation of Arunachal Pradesh. Khathing was confirmed into the IFAS in 1953.
In 1954 he was sent as Political Officer of the Tuensang Frontier Division, known then as Naga Hills Tuensang Area (NHTA) to establish administration, when ‘underground’ activities were beginning to foment. At this time he organised the Tuensang Frontier Division which was to become the famed Village Guards.
In 1957, when new districts were being formed, he was posted as the first Deputy Commissioner of Mokokchung District. At this time negotiations were going on with the NPC (Nagaland Peoples’ Council) under Dr. Imkonglemba with the Government of India, regarding independence etc. Khathing assisted the NPC in drawing up the 16 Point Agreement under which NHTA was granted full statehood in 1964, under the name of Nagaland, much before the other north east states were granted statehood in 1971.
In 1967, he was appointed Chief Secretary of the state, at which time he was able to establish the NAP (Naga Armed Police) and when he left in 1971 helped raise the Naga Regiment. He believed that as warrior tribes the youth had to be given appropriate, disciplined outlets so as not to fall into insurgent groups.
In 1961, he joined the second course of the National Defence College the first civilian and administrator to do so. At this time, the Australian Government (High Commission) approached him for help in administration of Papua & New Guinea (PNG). He advised that PNG could not become independent for at least 10 years, until requisite administrative initiatives were in place. PNG got its independence in 1971!
After NDC, he was sent to Sikkim as Development Commissioner and had a close rapport with the young Chogyal. However with the Chinese incursion into NEFA he asked and got transferred as Security Commissioner and Chief Liaison Officer between Civil and Army authorities. He played an active role in establishing the SSB with the famed B.N. Mullick.
In 1972 he was sent as India’s first Ambassador to Burma (Myanmar) after the Indo-Pak War of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh – the first tribal to be appointed as ambassador. His main brief was not only to take care of the population of Indian origin, who were being displaced, but more importantly to settle the 800 kms or so stretch border issue, which he accomplished discreetly, fairly and amicably, although there was some resentment from his own home state, Manipur, which adjoins Burma.
Returning to India, he refused offers of gubernatorial posts and only wanted to serve his people. He served as Advisor to the Governor of Manipur, and on Honorary basis as Chairman of Tribal Law Commission and Administrative Reforms Commission as well as Chairman of Administrative Commission, Nagaland.
In all his assignments, he never sought or asked for acknowledgement or recognition and considered his achievements as simply a result of his commitment to his people and country. The Indian Government was kind enough to confer the Padmashree to him in 1957, well coveted and respected since this was from the first President of India, Shri Rajendra Prasad. At that time and even perhaps today, Khathing holds the highest number of awards and medals in the civilian fraternity.