People feel shocked when they learn of the background and the details of the India-China War because under the cover of “national security interests” things have been hidden away from the public, despite such a long lapse of time. Wrote Brigadier JP Dalvi:
“The people of India want to know the truth but have been denied it on the dubious ground of national security. The result has been an unhealthy amalgam of innuendo, mythology, conjecture, outright calumny and sustained efforts to confuse and conceal the truth. Even the truncated NEFA Enquiry [Henderson-Brooks Report] has been withheld except for a few paraphrased extracts read out to the Lok Sabha on 2nd September 1963. For some undisclosed reason, I was not asked to give evidence [despite being on the frontline during the war] before this body nor (to the best of my knowledge) were my repatriated Commanding Officers [Dalvi and others were taken prisoner by the Chinese and released in 1963].”

Like a dictator Nehru kept the whole thing under wraps. Wrote Neville Maxwell: “…This was true of the handling of the boundary question [with China] which was kept away not only from the Cabinet and its Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees, but also from Parliament until armed clashes made it impossible to suppress.”

No democratic country remains so secretive. Both the UK and the USA, as also other democratic countries, make all official documents available after a lapse of certain years, as per their law, so that historians, academics, researchers, experts, leaders and others can study them. This helps writing of correct history, drawing proper conclusions, and learning lessons for the future. But, in India, the leaders and the bureaucrats are ever afraid of their incompetence and dishonesty being exposed. They are bothered about their present and their survival, the future of the country is not their business. You ignore history and its lessons at your own peril and hence, to draw useful lessons for future from the debacle, it is necessary to raise uncomfortable questions:
“What was the nature of the border dispute? Why the issue was not resolved through talks? Why didn’t India settle it in 1954 itself at the time of signing the Panchsheel? Was Indian position justified? Did Chinese arguments have substance? Why did India change its maps in 1954—on what grounds? Were there solid grounds for India to be so adamant on its stand? Why was the Chinese offer of a swap-deal on McMahon Line and Aksai Chin not accepted? Why was the forward policy adopted? Why the Indian defence preparedness was so poor? Had there been politicisation of the army? Why was the Indian performance in the war so pathetic? What should be India’s stand going forward? How to resolve the dispute? How to strengthen India’s defence?…”

Accountability should have been established and those responsible should have got their just deserts. The findings of the enquiry should have been made public, along with a road-map for the future. That’s democracy!

The India-China war of 1962 was indeed independent India’s most traumatic and worst-ever external security failure. Any democratic country, worth its salt, would have instituted a detailed enquiry into all aspects of the debacle. But, what happened in practice? Nothing! The government was brazen enough not to set up a comprehensive enquiry. Why let their own mistakes be found? Why punish themselves? Why be made to resign? Why vacate your positions? People don’t deserve to know! It was an autocratic democracy. Don’t disclose—cite “national interest”. Although, it was not national interest, but pure self-interest, that drove the decision. Sweep under carpet whatever is unpalatable. Just put all the blame on the Chinese and on a few scapegoats.

The above would be obvious from the following. During the lull in the war—24 Oct–13 Nov 1962—this is what Nehru said in the Rajya Sabha on 9 November 1962: “People have been shocked, all of us have been shocked, by the events that occurred from October 20 onwards, especially of the first few days, and the reverses we suffered. So I hope there will be an inquiry so as to find out what mistakes or errors were committed and who were responsible for them.” During the lull period India was making its preparations and those in power in Delhi were sure India would give a befitting reply to the Chinese. But, the subsequent war of 14-20 November 1962 proved even more disastrous. Sensing its consequence upon him, Nehru conveniently forgot about the enquiry.

Although no enquiry was set up by the Indian Cabinet or the Government, the new Chief of Army Staff, General Chaudhuri, did set up an Operations Review Committee headed by Lieutenant-General TB Henderson-Brooks, aka HB, of the Indian army—an Australian-born, second-generation English expatriate who had opted to be an Indian, rather than a British, citizen in the 1930s—with Brigadier Premendra Singh Bhagat, Victoria Cross, then commandant of the Indian Military Academy, as a member.

However, the terms of reference of the Committee were never published; it had no power to examine witnesses or call for documents; and it had no proper legal authority. The purpose was to ensure it didn’t morph into a comprehensive fact-finding mission that could embarrass the government. Reportedly, its terms of reference were very restrictive confined perhaps to only the 4 Corps’ operations. However, going by the fact that the report, referred to as the Henderson-Brooks Report or Henderson-Brooks/Bhagat Report or HB/B Report (submitted in April 1963) of even such a handicapped Committee has been kept classified and top secret even till today signifies that the Committee went beyond its limited terms of reference, did some very good work and managed to nail the root causes, which the powers that be wanted to remain hidden. Perhaps, had the HB report been made public, Nehru would have had to resign. Wrote Kuldip Nayar in ‘Beyond the Lines’ :
“…in September 1970, [General] Thapar [who headed the army at the time of the war] approached Indira Gandhi…to allow him to see the [HB] report… She did not however concede the request…When I was a Rajya Sabha member from 1996, I wanted the report to be made public. The government refused to do so ‘in public interest’. My hunch was that the report had so severely criticized Nehru that the government, even headed by the BJP, did not want to face the public anger that would have been generated… I used the RTI facilities in 2008 when I wanted access to the Henderson Brooks inquiry report…[but didn’t succeed]…”

As per the Hindustan Times report titled ‘Incorrect maps given to China led to 1962 war’ of 22 October 2012:
“…India presented contradictory maps on the McMahon Line to China in the fifties and in 1960-61, which ultimately led to the war with China in 1962. This revelation was made by Wajahat Habibullah, former chief information commissioner (CIC), perhaps the only civilian besides defence secretaries to have officially accessed the top secret Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report. ‘We had given maps with serious contradictions on the layout of the McMahon Line to China. This led the Chinese to believe that one of the pickets being controlled by our forces in the Northeast was theirs—according to one of the maps given to them by us,’ said Habibullah, declining to name the picket along the Arunachal Pradesh border with China…Accordingly, on October 20, 1962, the Chinese army crossed over to occupy the border picket, leading to open hostilities…Habibullah got the go-ahead to access to the report after journalist Kuldip Nayar’s appeal under the RTI Act in 2005 [or, was it 2008?] to get a copy of the report.”

Wrote Claude Arpi:
“Unfortunately, historians and researchers have never been allowed access to original materials to write about Nehru’s leadership during the troubled years after Independence. It is tragic that the famous ‘Nehru Papers’ are jealously locked away in the Nehru Memorial Library. They are, in fact, the property of his family! I find it even more regrettable that during its six years in power, the NDA government, often accused of trying to rewrite history, did not take any action to rectify this anomaly. Possibly they were not interested in recent history! …As a result, today history lovers and serious researchers have only the 31 volumes published so far of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (covering the period 1946 to 1955) to fall back on. This could be considered a partial declassification of the Nehru Papers, except for the fact that the editing has always been undertaken by Nehruvian historians, making at times the selection tainted. The other problem is that these volumes cover only the writings (or sayings) of Nehru; notes or letters of other officials or dignitaries which triggered Nehru’s answers are only briefly and unsatisfactorily resumed in footnotes.”


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