Evacuation from Tezpur in Assam during the India-China war
New Delhi, March 18: Key portions of a secret 1962 Indian Army report that have emerged in public for the first time suggest that a mix of strategic and personnel blunders contributed to the humiliating defeat against China that year.
The report, commissioned to pinpoint the reasons for the rout, purportedly identifies two key mistakes. One, an aggressive “forward policy” adopted under then defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon and two, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s decision to handpick Lt General Brij Mohan Kaul to lead operations in the North-East Frontier Province (Nefa).
Authored by Lt General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P.S. Bhagat, the report is dubbed top secret by the Indian government, which has never declassified the document despite repeated demands by scholars and sections of the military and political establishment.
But veteran Australian journalist Nevill Maxwell, who reported on the 1962 China-India war, uploaded scanned copies of 190 pages from the report online today, sparking a scramble within the Indian government to contain any embarrassing fallout.
Maxwell’s website — where he has uploaded the documents — became inaccessible within hours, triggering speculation that the Centre may have tried to disable access to the report.
But the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert-In) — the government’s top online watchdog — rejected any role, and the revealed sections of the report, downloaded by others from Maxwell’s website, were soon available on other portals.
The defence ministry in a statement said “it would not be appropriate to comment” because of the “extremely sensitive nature of the contents of the report, which are of current operational value”. It also reiterated that for the government, the document remains classified as top secret.
The criticisms expressed in detail in the sections of the report that became public today are not new. Military commanders have made the same arguments in private accounts and landmark books like Brigadier John Dalvi’s controversial 1968 book Himalayan Blunder and Maxwell’s India’s China War, published in 1970.
But the revealed sections confirm that India’s official military review of the 1962 war concurred with these often sharp criticisms.
India had in 1961 begun implementing a plan known as the “forward policy”, under which troops were sent across the McMahon Line — the effective boundary between India and China south of Tibet — to encircle Chinese troops in response to incursions by Chinese forces.
But the Henderson Brooks report, based on internal documents, memos, analyses of meetings between top officials including defence minister Menon, and messages from army units at the frontier concludes that the forward policy was introduced “without the means to implement it effectively”.
“It is obvious that politically the ‘Forward Policy’ was desirable, and presumably the eviction of the Chinese from Ladakh must always be the eventual aim,” the report says on Page 10. “But what is pertinent is whether we were militarily in a position at that time to implement this policy.”
|Jawaharlal Nehru (right) and then defence minister
YB Chavan at Nefa (Arunachal) in December 1962
The political and military leaderships, the report says, were convinced that India’s pinpricks would not prompt China into any “major military operation”.
But the “forward policy”, originally intended for the Ladakh sector, spread to Nefa — now Arunachal Pradesh — aggravating tensions.
In particular, the report questions the role of B.M. Kaul, who was chief of the General Staff Branch, Army Headquarters, in the run-up to the war and was then made commanding officer in charge of the army’s Nefa operations.
Kaul, the authors say, remained convinced as late as end-September 1962 that China would not attack. This was days before Chinese troops attacked Indian posts.
“So far, efforts have been made to keep individual personalities out of this review,” the authors say on Page 83. “General Kaul, however, must be made an exception.”
According to the authors, the lack of clear instructions from Kaul, and the muddled messages he sent down the line for the military commanders, “is inexcusable” and “must never be allowed again”.
Kaul’s decision to order operations at a post known as Dhola “despite being fully briefed regarding the grave logistical shortcomings, can at best only be described as wanton disregard of the elementary principles of war”, the authors say.