By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Mar 14
More than half a century has elapsed since an army commission, headed by Lieutenant General TB Henderson Brooks, enquired into India’s crushing military defeat at the hands of China in 1962. So controversial have successive governments deemed the report that it remains “Top Secret” even today. Only two copies of the report were believed to exist, one with army headquarters and the other with the defence secretary.
Now a third copy of the Henderson Brooks Report (HBR) has emerged, posted on the internet by Neville Maxwell, the former India correspondent for the British newspaper “The Times”. Maxwell’s controversial book, “India’s China War”, is acclaimed by many as a well researched indictment of India’s politico-military planning; and dismissed by others as a communist sympathiser’s justification for China’s aggression. Maxwell has often suggested that he had a copy of the HBR.
Lt Gen Henderson Brooks migrated to Australia after his retirement in the early 1960s. Maxwell joined him there, also choosing --- perhaps coincidentally --- to settle in Australia. Maxwell has insisted on keeping his source anonymous.
In his blogpost, Maxwell says that he offered the HBR to five unnamed editors of Indian newspapers, but none were willing to publish it.
While Maxwell’s website, “Neville Maxwell’s Albatross”, now appears blocked for Indian users, Business Standard possesses a copy of the blog post that purports to be the HBR. Maxwell has confirmed, through a third party, that the 190-page document in this newspaper’s possession is the genuine report.
Acknowledging the publication, the defence ministry today stated: "Given the extremely sensitive nature of the contents of the Report, which are of current operational value, it is reiterated that the Government of India has classified this Report as a Top Secret document and, as such, it would not be appropriate to comment on the contents uploaded by Neville Maxwell on the Web (sic)".
Critics of the Congress Party have accused it of keeping the HBR secret because it allegedly blames political miscalculation by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for triggering a war with China. That is not the case; while Maxwell’s HBR blogpost notes bureaucratic interference in decision-making, especially the miscalculations of Director of the Intelligence Bureau (DIB) BN Mullick, it apportions blame primarily to the army.
The key army villain turns out to be Gen BM Kaul, who was Chief of General Staff (CGS) --- a key operational post in Army Headquarters (AHQ) --- before being appointed on the eve of war to command 4 Corps, which failed miserably in defending NEFA (North East Frontier Agency), as Arunachal Pradesh was called.
The most hotly-debated question about 1962 has been: did the political leadership provoke China into war by ordering the army --- against the advice of the generals --- to implement a “Forward Policy”? This involved sending small groups of Indian soldiers, without adequate combat capability, support or backup, to occupy disputed areas in Ladakh, claiming them as Indian territory.
The HBR blogpost reveals that the government wanted a Forward Policy, but left the implementation to the generals. Yet a supine AHQ, under a weak army chief, General Thapar, and pressured by a gung-ho General Kaul, overruled valid cautions presented by HQ Western Command (HQ WC), which insisted that a forward move must have adequate troop numbers, combat support and logistics.
The belief that pushing forward would not encounter Chinese resistance came from the Intelligence Bureau, but was accepted by AHQ. The HBR blogpost cites a meeting held in the PM’s office on November 2, 1961, attended by the defence minister (KV Krishna Menon), the foreign secretary (MJ Desai), the army chief (General PN Thapar) and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (DIB), Mullick, when the decision to push forward troops into contact with the Chinese was taken. Countering the army’s earlier stated view that “the Chinese would resist by force any attempts to take back territory held by them,” Mullick argued that “the Chinese would not react to our establishing new posts and that they were NOT LIKELY TO USE FORCE AGAINST ANY OF OUR POSTS EVEN IF THEY WERE IN A POSITION TO DO SO” (capitals in original).
The AHQ operated in the lead up to war on a flawed army assessment of Chinese strength --- an outdated 1960 operational instruction, never updated, that said the Chinese could scrape together a “regiment plus” (about 4000-5000 soldiers) against Ladakh. Yet Lt Gen Daulet Singh, who headed WC, was far more realistic. On August 17, 1962, it wrote to AHQ that the Chinese had a “well equipped division (15,000 soldiers) with supporting arms deployed against LADAKH. Further, the Chinese had developed roads to all the important areas they held and thus could concentrate large forces at any given place. As against this, we were thinly spread out, with no supporting arms (i.e. artillery, engineers, etc) worth the name and with poor communications between the various sectors. Thus, in case of hostilities, we would be defeated in detail.”
With war clouds gathering, HQ WC pointed out that “it is imperative that political direction is based on military means”, asked for a “four brigade division with adequate supporting arms”. Declaring it “vital that we did not provoke the Chinese into an armed clash, Lt Gen Daulet Singh recommended that the “Forward Policy” should be held in abeyance.
A week later, Lt Gen Daulet Singh further pressed this view in discussions with top AHQ generals. Whether army chief, General Thapar, conveyed the HQ WC assessment to the government remains unknown. On September 5, AHQ reiterated the Forward Policy, telling HQ WC that it “did not consider it likely that the Chinese would resort to any large scale hostilities in LADAKH.”
The HBR blogpost recounts that eastern army commander, Lt Gen LP Sen, was told by a senior AHQ officer in September 1962 that “experience in LADAKH had shown that a few rounds fired at the Chinese would cause them to run away.”
Simultaneously, tensions were rising in NEFA, where Indian troops established the Dhola Post across the Namka Chu River. The Chinese surrounded Dhola on September 8, and firing began daily. This situation was reviewed on September 22, by Defence Minister Krishna Menon. While General Thapar warned that action at Dhola would invite Chinese retaliation in Ladakh, Foreign Secretary MJ Desai felt “that the Chinese would not react very strongly against us in Ladakh. He considered that operations for eviction of the Chinese from NEFA should be carried out, even at the expense of losing some territory in LADAKH.”
The AHQ seems to have accepted this military assessment from a diplomat. The HBR blogpost says, “Defence Ministry then, on the request of the Chief of Army Staff, issued the following instructions:-… Army should prepare and throw the Chinese out, as soon as possible. The Chief of the Army Staff was accordingly directed to take action for the eviction of the Chinese from… NEFA, as soon as he is ready.”
With the government ready to accept some loss of territory in Ladakh, AHQ told HQ WC that “Chinese may attack some of our forward posts… (which) will fight it out and inflict maximum casualties on the Chinese.”
Criticising these “unrealistic” orders to “far-flung, tactically unsound and uncoordinated small posts”, the HBR blogpost damningly wonders, “Whether General Staff Branch Army Headquarters were in touch with the realities of the situation. It appears that events controlled actions rather than actions events.”
Slamming the Chief of General Staff (CGS), Lt Gen BM Kaul, for not advising the government on “our weakness and inability to implement the ‘Forward Policy’”, the HBR blogpost notes: “There might have been pressure put on by the Defence Ministry, but it was the duty of the General Staff to have pointed out the unsoundness of the ‘Forward Policy’ without the means to implement it… Apparently, however, the General Staff at NO stage submitted to the Government an appraisal on the consequences of the ‘Forward Policy’ or the basic requirement of troops and resources required before it should have been implemented.”
Hinting at General BM Kaul’s absence of military qualifications, and his cultivation of a clique within the officer cadre, the HBR blogpost states: “The General Staff, particularly the CGS (Gen Kaul), Deputy CGS (Maj Gen JS Dhillon) and the DMO (Brig Monty Palit) went a step further and permeated this belief into the Army, with the disastrous result that even field formations were infected with a sense of complacency.”
Recognizing perhaps that Lt Gen BM Kaul, with his proximity to Nehru, had superseded the army’s command, the HBR blogpost exempts Gen Thapar, and the eastern army commander, Lt Gen LP Sen, from his sharpest criticisms. Frontally attacking Lt Gen BM Kaul, the document notes: “This lapse in Staff Duties on the part of the Chief of the General Staff, his Deputy, the DMO, DMI, and other Staff Directors is inexcusable. From this stemmed the unpreparedness and the unbalance of our forces. These… are key appointments and officers were hand-picked by General KAUL to fill them (sic).”
[Tomorrow: Part II]