Indians are very adept at keeping ghosts alive. One of these disturbing poltergeists is the Henderson Brooks report on the 1962 Indo-China border skirmish. The findings of that document have been fairly well known since the publication of Neville Maxwell’s India’s China War in 1970. But the government of India, for reasons best known or unknown to itself, continues to keep the report under the classified category and thus beyond the access of scholars and others who are interested in the subject. After the debacle in 1962, the government instituted an enquiry to be conducted by two generals, T. B. Henderson Brooks and Premindra Singh Bhagat. The report spoke of meddlesome politicians, a weak military leadership and emphasized the fact that the strategy of the war was “out of touch with reality’’. The report, together with a slew of memoirs and papers of some of the key figures, make it clear that India’s forward policy in Ladakh and Nefa was a crucial factor in precipitating the conflict. Thus the Henderson Brooks report, gathering dust in some defence ministry archive, has travelled from being a top secret document to old hat. But the government of India continues to believe that the report is secret even though its contents have been known since 1970. One dilemma the government faces is that it commissioned the report and hence cannot disown it, but neither can it accept its findings.
The easiest route for the government would be the most civilized one: to declassify the report by following the convention of the 30 Year rule. But successive governments have steadfastly refused to do this. In 2010, the defence minister declared that the report is “top secret’’ because, he said, its contents “are not only extremely sensitive but are of current operational value’’. A year before, the Central Information Commission had decreed that “no part of the report might at this stage be disclosed’’. These claims are indefensible since the official history of the 1962 conflict, which has been available on the internet for some time, actually draws on the Henderson Brooks report. It is beyond comprehension how declassifying a document prepared in 1963 can harm India’s security and foreign policy concerns in 2014. Has India not advanced in these spheres in 50 years? The chimera of secrecy makes cowards of all concerned.