Tribune Special-PART 4
1962 War-Sidelining army was a grave error
An air of unreality surrounded India’s policy processes at that time relating to the higher defence management. It is unclear whether the Indian Army was consulted on the military and strategic implications of Nehru’s Forward Policy
Fifty years should be long enough to forget India’s humiliation in the Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962; but its traumatic memory still haunts the armed forces and informs the timidity of South Block in dealing with China. Hence, it is important to review the process of higher decision-making in the area of national security that evolved after Independence, but signally failed at that critical juncture.
Indian troop movements in Assam during the conflict (left) and jawans patrolling in the forward areas. The Army believed an offensive-defensive strategy was required vis-a-vis China due to the poor state of India’s preparedness in the border areas
Any such inquiry immediately hits a road block, which is inaccessibility to official records. The familiar complaint remains unaddressed that the files relating to the debacle in 1962 are securely locked up in the record rooms of the Government of India, which includes Army Headquarters, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of External Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Secretariat. So do the operational records like after-action reports and regimental histories relating to the conflict. It would be naive to expect that they will ever be transferred to the National Archives and become available to the serious historian and researcher. Ironically, the official history of the conflict, prepared after great effort and expense by the Historical Section of the MOD remains under wraps.
VARyiNG accounts of the war
Then we hear the familiar litany that the Henderson-Brooks report, submitted in mid-1963, is yet to be made public. An application was filed some two years back seeking its disclosure under the Right to Information Act. It was rejected by the Defence Minister claiming that an internal study had confirmed that the contents of the Henderson Brooks Report "are not only extremely sensitive but are of current operational value." It would be difficult to improve on that bit of legerdemain. However, several regulars in the seminar circuit claim to have seen the report, and inform that it spares nobody—Nehru, Krishna Menon, Ministry of Defence, Army Headquarters, several Generals involved in the conflict, the Indian National Congress and the Opposition parties. Naturally, the governments-of-the-day of all hues are reluctant to hurt themselves and their icons by disclosing the report. Truth, consequently, has perforce to wear a mask.
How do the commentariat apportion blame for India’s debacle in 1962? They fall into two broad categories. There are those who indict China for its unprovoked treacherous attack on an innocent unsuspecting India. And, those who believe that India’s feckless actions—an amalgam of Nehru’s naiveté, Krishna Menon’s insouciance and B.M.Mullik’s activism provoked the violent Chinese reaction. The many accounts of the Sino-Indian border conflict can similarly be classified. First, we have the military accounts by participants like General B.M.Kaul that were designed for self-exculpation, but also indicting others involved. Second, we have more objective accounts by civilians like P.V.R Rao, Brigadier Dalvi and General D.K.Palit which maintain fair objectivity. Thirdly, we have the factually accurate accounts of Neville Maxwell, B.M Mullik and S. Gopal, who had access to official records. There are scores of other analysts who have noticed aspects of the 1962 conflict for making their personal interpretations.
visible structures, invisible processes