For the first time, the famous Henderson Brooks report detailing the reasons for India’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 has been made public. The leaked report squarely blames the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his favourite army officer Lt Gen BM Kaul and the then director Intelligence Bureau (DIB) BN Mullick for the military debacle.
The report was made public Monday by Neville Maxwell, a former journalist at The Times, London, and author of one of the most well-known books on the war, ‘India’s China War’. All these years, he had held on to the report, a copy of which he had been given earlier.
Maxwell wrote on his website that the report was being made public as he wanted to end his complicity in keeping it a secret. Curiously, his website was no longer accessible hours after he uploaded the report. The report was prepared by Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Brigadier PS Bhagat on the instructions of the then Chief of Army Staff General JN Chaudhuri. Curiously, he left out the role played by Army HQs from the scope of the report. “Review of the functioning of army headquarters, however, has not been dealt with, on the advice of the Chief of Army Staff,” Brooks and Bhagat recorded in the final version of the report.
Much of the trouble began with Nehru’s “Forward Policy,” which was militarily unsustainable. Nehru had instructed the military to continue building military posts in areas claimed by the Chinese while receiving assurances from Mullick that there would be no reaction.
“The Chinese would not react to our establishing new posts and they are not likely to use force against any of our posts. This was contrary to the military intelligence appreciation,” the report states. Worse, the role played by Lt Gen Kaul as the Chief of General Staff led to the 1962 debacle. “Had the developments…been correctly apprised by General Staff at Army HQs and correlated to NEFA (North East Frontier Agency, present-day Arunachal Pradesh), it is possible that we would not have precipitated matters till we were better prepared for war.”
Other damning parts of the report show that the Indian military was just not ready, but warnings were constantly ignored. “As it is, we acted on militarily unsound basis on not relying on our own strength but rather believed (in the) lack of reaction from the Chinese.”
It also notes that “militarily it is unthinkable that the General Staff did not advise the government about our weakness and inability to implement the ‘Forward Policy.’” It also states that “there might have been pressure” from the “defence ministry, but it was the duty” of Lt Gen Kaul to have “pointed out the unsoundness of the ‘Forward Policy’ without the means to implement it.”
Clearly, Lt Gen Kaul, “as CGS and the DMO (Director, Military Operations) time and again ordered in furtherance of the ‘Forward Policy’ to the establishment of individual posts, over ruling the protests made by Western Command.”
In 1962, Western Command was in charge of the entire western and northern borders right up to Ladakh. In a castigating observation, the report noted that “to base military actions and place in jeopardy the security of troops on suppositions and beliefs put across at conference tables indicates either acceptance of the belief or a militarily immature mind”. In fact, the report notes that while it has tried to keep away from mentioning personalities, it had no option but to look at the role played by Lt Gen Kaul. By October 1962, Lt Gen Kaul had taken over the newly-formed IV Corps. “So far effort has been made to keep individual personalities out of this Review. General Kaul, however, must be made an exception, as from now on, he becomes the central figure in the operations.”
The report provides details about the orders Lt Gen Kaul gave but the Indian army was in no position to carry out. These orders were given to hold on to posts and bridges. In parts it records how some decisions of Lt Gen Kaul to keep crucial army Brigades in “tactically unsound positions cannot be fathomed”.
Between October 10 and 20, the report states there was a major period of “indecision” as Lt Gen Kaul’s troops began to face major setbacks.
After several Indian positions fell to the Chinese onslaught during this period, Lt Gen Kaul requested a visit to Delhi brief Prime Minister Nehru. The report notes that a meeting took place with the Chief of Army Staff Gen PN Thapar, the DIB, the cabinet and foreign secretaries and other luminaries. While minutes of the meeting were not available, the report drew on the Eastern Army Commander’s report and found complete indecisiveness on the part of the senior political, bureaucratic and military leadership.
Curiously, newspapers reported the meeting and stated that a decision had been taken to “evict the Chinese.” But, as the report points out, no decision was taken. In fact, the report found it “strange that these meetings were too top secret for minutes to be kept, yet they were announced in the newspapers”.
The leaked report just a month ahead of the 2014 general elections has already stirred up a spate of reactions. The BJP has already called for the document to be made public.–Hindustan Times