Following the military debacle of 1962, the new army chief, Gen. JN Chaudhuri, ordered Lt. Gen. TB. Henderson Brooks, a second generation Indian army officer, and Brigadier (later Lt. Gen) Prem Bhagat, VC, to find out what went wrong. The result was the yet to be declassified, ‘Henderson Brooks Report’. It was restricted to mundane tactical issues like training, equipment, physical fitness of troops and the role of military commanders. Brooks and Bhagat, had no access to records of meetings in the Defence Ministry, as Krishna Menon, had categorically disallowed any notes or minutes to be kept of his conferences, saying these were top secret in nature. So the politicians and bureaucrats, have escaped blame!
However our Defence Ministry still keeps it locked up, claiming it of current tactical value! But this report was much in the news recently, following its appearance on the website of ageing Sino-Indian scholar, Neville Maxwell. The truth is, that Congressmen and even the Indian army (which apparently vetoed repeated RTI requisitions for making it public!), keep it locked up for fear of destroying certain myths that prevail about the Himalayan blunder of 1962. Moreover, if we haven’t been able to address the tactical issues in 50 years, we perhaps never will. Certainly the strategic lessons from that the conflict, are yet to be addressed: such as the gathering intelligence about our enemies, or the issues related to civil-military relations, and above all else, in putting together a coherent and effective policy to deal with the Chinese.
The absence of credible intelligence in 1962, about China’s capabilities and intentions, led Nehru to adopt an erroneous ‘Forward Policy’, of setting up of poorly equipped posts well inside Chinese territory, on the assumption that China wouldn’t respond. This had the backing of the then IB Chief, the Foreign Secretary and Generals like BM Kaul. China’s response was swift and severe, leading to the conflict that has left permanent scars on the Indian psyche. Consequently, India’s external intelligence agency, RAW, came into being, but it failed in 1999, to spot Pakistani intrusions near Kargil, and tried to pass the blame onto the Indian army! And then again, it was caught off guard when Mumbai was attacked on 26th November 2008. And our intelligence about the Chinese is still minimal.
But what several studies about that conflict highlighted was the dismal state of civil military relations in India. This remains at the heart of our poor higher defence management even today. Professional and straight talking military commanders are often side stepped in favour of pliable yes men, as was the case in 1962. General(s) Thimayya had Daulet Singh had indeed spoken up, against political directions that went beyond our military means. But they were either silenced or ignored. Instead, Nehru’s arrogant defence minister Krishna Menon, created a clique of officers, led by General Kaul, who told the politicians what they wanted to hear. This tendency persists even today, where straight talking soldiers barring a few exceptions, rarely go up the ladder.
And of course the shadow of 1962 looms large in South Block, as diplomats use that experience to justify their ‘do nothing to upset’ China policies. With generations of ill informed and sometimes clueless politicians being led by half informed diplomatic bureaucratic elite (with the military men rarely consulted on policy formulation), we have meaningless parliamentary resolutions to take back territories from China, that we’ve lost. The reality is that as China’s strategic clout increases, it will seek more and give back little. And we cannot take back militarily, what we lost in 1962, even though the UPA-II government has sanctioned a Rs 80,000 crore stike corps, in the bizarre hope of launching troops into the Tibetian plateau! Instead, that money would have been much better used to strengthen our defences and for better roads along the Sino-Indian border.
Maroof Raza is a strategic