'Lessons to be Learnt from Henderson Brooks Report on 1962 War'

Published: 19th March 2014 06:27 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th March 2014 06:27 PM   |  A+A-

By IANS

There are lessons to be learnt from the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, though it comes half a century after India's humiliating defeat in the 1962 border war with China, and it is unlikely to have any effect on the warming electoral landscape, say experts.

Portions of the classified report, which clinically analysed the military defeat, were uploaded online by Australian author and journalist Neville Maxwell, triggering a controversy. Maxwell was the India correspondent of the Times, London, in New Delhi during the war and had extensively written on it.

Maxwell reportedly got a copy of the report, that was commissioned by the Indian government and authored by Indian army officers Lt. Gen. Henderson Brooks and Brig. P.S. Bhagat. Maxwell wrote an authoritative and seminal book called "India's China War". The report was shelved and never saw the light of the day on the plea that it had "sensitive" information and its publication would jeopardise national security.

Former Indian Army chief General Ved Prakash Malik said he did not think that Maxwell had any thought of the forthcoming elections when he posted the report online and added the report should have been declassified "long ago".

"But from the professional point of view, the report required to be de-classified long ago... It has some major lessons to be given even today. As a professional I feel it is good it has come out in the public and I would hope that people pay attention to the lessons learnt at the policy making level.. on the relationship required at the political-military level...," Malik, who was the army chief during the 1999 Kargil war, told IANS on the phone from Panchkula near Chandigarh, where he has been residing since his retirement.

Malik does not feel revelation of the report will have any spillover on the political firmament as it has remained classified for the past several decades.

"I don't think the report will have any effect.. there were mistakes done by people at different level and we need to learn lessons... and we need not worry about maintaining image. That is fine, they have played their role in nation building," Malik added.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said the contents of the report "were known for long". The document is critical of the roles played by the army leadership, including Lt General B.M. Kaul, who was Chief of General Staff and was appointed Commander IV Corps that was routed in the northeast, and also India's then defence minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, and terms as "surprising" his decision not to keep minutes of the meetings he had with the military leadership ahead of the 1962 war. 

The report is silent on the political leadership, and does not name then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, though it is critical of his "Forward Policy" which had sought the raising of military outposts in areas claimed by the Chinese and launching of aggressive patrols. 

"The contents were known for long, and books written pointing out deficiencies on the military and political side. There is absolutely nothing that was not known earlier, not even by way of detail.. There will be a little bit of commentary here and there in order to get electoral benefit, especially putting Nehru in poor light and his management of the China threat, but he has already been criticized," Sibal told IANS.

Noted strategic analyst C. Uday Bhaskar says the mandate of the report was to look at the military aspect of the war and the operational inadequacies and not the civil aspect.

"The report did not focus on the political aspect, which is a misleading inference. There is no mention of Nehru in any way," Bhaskar, distinguished fellow at the Society for Policy Studies, told IANS.

"The BJP has tried to make it into an election issue, which is not really valid," he said. He said no Indian government, including the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, tried to bring the report to the public domain.

According to the expert, the terms of reference of the report were what went wrong with the training of the Indian Army, the equipment, the system of command, the physical fitness of troops and the capacity of commanders at all levels to influence the men under their control.

"The focus is not on political dimension. It would be useful to deal with the past however inglorious, and it will be a great pity if it is made into a political issue as all governments have contributed to keeping it under wraps.. no party can exonerate itself," he stated.

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