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Updated: July 2, 2012 00:06 IST

Publish the 1962 war report now

A. G. Noorani
Comment (22)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The suppression of the Brooks-Bhagat report on the war with China is a betrayal of Nehru’s promise to the nation

The Government of India’s statement in Parliament on May 10, that the Report of the Operations Review Committee on the 1962 War with China, by Lt.Gen. T.B. Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P.S. Bhagat, V.C., will not be published follows an Order of March 19, 2009 by a Bench of the Central Information Commission comprising the Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, and the Information Commissioner, M.L. Sharma on Kuldip Nayar’s application for a copy of the Report.

The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) had replied to him on June 13, 2008 quoting S. 8(1) (a) of the RTI which reads thus: “‘Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.’ Since the report contained information, which was considered sensitive therefore, same, was regretted.” The vague word “sensitive” does not figure in S. 8.

Bearing on security

The CIC’s Order quoted S. 8(2) but did not act on it: “Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, or any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section (1), a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.” The CIC examined the Original Report, including the pages of conclusions at pp. 192-222. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had told the CIC that the Report “was a part of internal review conducted on the orders of the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Choudhary. Reports of internal review are not even submitted to Govt. let alone placed in the public domain. Disclosure of this information will amount to disclosure of the army’s operational strategy in the North-East and the discussion on deployments had a direct bearing on the question of the Line of Actual Control between India and China, a live issue examination between the two countries at present.” The Director General Military Operations, therefore, submitted that the report falls clearly within the exemption of disclosures laid down in Sec. 8(1)(a) of the RTI act read with sec. 8(3).”

The CIC’s Order said: “We have examined the report specifically in terms of its bearing on present national security. There is no doubt that the issue of the India-China Border particularly along the North East parts of India is still a live issue with ongoing negotiations between the two countries on this matter. The disclosure of information of which the Henderson Brooks report carries considerable detail on what precipitated the war of 1962 between India and China will seriously compromise both security and the relationship between India and China, thus having a bearing both on internal and external security. We have examined the report from the point of view of severability u/s 10(1). For reasons that we consider unwise to discuss in this Decision Notice, this Division Bench agrees that no part of the report might at this stage be disclosed.”

Both the MoD and the CIC confused diplomatic embarrassment in “ongoing negotiations” with China with “national security” and concluded that material on “what precipitated the war … will seriously compromise both security and the relationship between India and China.” The CIC concludes from this: “thus having a bearing both on internal and external security.” Books galore have been published in India and abroad on who and what triggered the war without affecting either our “security” or the relationship with China.

The report

Are we sure China does not have a copy of the Report? Most certainly Neville Maxwell has. His book, “India’s China War” (1970), drew on “Material from unpublished files and reports of the Government of India and the Indian Army.” It was a veiled reference to the Henderson Brooks Report. This writer acquired personal knowledge of the fact.

China Quarterly (London) published in its July-September 1970 issue a review-article by this writer on India’s Forward Policy based on the memoirs of Brig. John P. Dalvi, “Himalayan Blunder,” Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul’s “The Untold Story,” and D.R. Mankekar’s “The Guilty Men of 1962.” Maxwell wrote a lengthy reply to it which the editor, David C. Wilson, sent across for this writer’s rejoinder. In three of the footnotes, the Henderson Brooks report was cited with full references. The writer’s reply explicitly asserted that Maxwell had made his comments party “on the basis of the Henderson Brooks report from which his information is drawn and which is not available to me.” Both the reply and the rejoinder were published together in China Quarterly of January-March 1971. But, instead of the explicit and precise references to the report in the footnotes in the proof, Maxwell’s reply, as published, referred to “an unpublished document.”

On April 14, 2001, the Economic and Political Weekly published Maxwell’s article entitled “Henderson Brooks Report: An Introduction.” What he wrote knocks the CIC’s order for a six and exposes the falsity of the government’s excuses. “The Henderson Brooks Report is long (its main section, excluding recommendations and many annexures, covers nearly 200 foolscap pages).” He quotes directly from the Report which said: “It would have been convenient and logical to trace the events (beginning with) Army HQ, and then move down to Commands for more details … ending with field formations for the battle itself.”

Maxwell’s comments on the Report are noteworthy. “The report includes no surprises, and its publication would be of little significance but for the fact that so many in India still cling to the soothing fantasy of a 1962 Chinese aggression… Even in the dry, numbered paragraphs of their report, HB/B’s account of the moves that preceded the final assault is dramatic and riveting.” Its main author was one of the most distinguished soldiers we have known, Brigadier Prem Bhagat, holder of a WWII Victoria Cross, who Maxwell describes as “a no-nonsense, fighting soldier, widely respected in the Army,” going on to say that “the taut, unforgiving analysis in the report bespeaks the asperity of his reproach” — that explains its suppression. It is a damning document. Henderson Brooks settled down in Australia after retirement. On March 19, 2009, the CIC made its Order apparently unaware of this revealing article published on April 14, 2001. If Maxwell were to put the report online, no red faces will be noticed in South Block. They will be covered with egg.

The suppression is a betrayal of a solemn promise to the nation. On November 9, 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru solemnly promised the Rajya Sabha: “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.”

The inquiry, though conducted internally, was intended to allay public disquiet and to fix responsibility. On September 2, 1963, Raksha Mantri Y.B. Chavan informed Parliament about the Report claiming “this inquiry is the type of inquiry which the Prime Minister had in mind when he promised such an inquiry to the House in November 1962.” But “publication of this report which contains information about the strength and deployment of our forces and their locations would be of invaluable use to our enemies. It would not only endanger our security but affect the morale of those entrusted with safeguarding the security of our borders.” In 1963 this was understandable. In 2009 it was not. He made a tantalising reference to “the higher direction of operation. Even the largest and the best equipped of armies need to be given proper policy guidance” — the leadership’s role.

What CIC Wajahat Habibullah said in a press interview on August 24, 2010, provides the clues: “The Report reveals the incompetence of the military top brass. But that was not why we rejected the plea for its disclosure. [We] felt that the Report hinged on the questions which are still items of negotiation between India and China.”

This is no ground at all. The issue is not the alignment of the McMahon Line but China’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh. But the alignment is relevant to “what precipitated the war of 1962,” as his order puts it. That is known to all. On September 12, 1959, Nehru candidly told Parliament that in “some parts” the McMahon Line “was not considered a good line and it was varied afterwards by us.” In June 1962, the Dhola Post was set up within that line but beyond the map line — an area of 60 sq.miles. On September 8, Chinese troops took up positions dominating it. Responding to public anger, Nehru ordered their eviction. China replied with a massive attack on October 20. Maj.Gen. Niranjan Prasad who commanded the 4 Division at Tezpur had doubts about the Line in that area.

Inquiries in other countries

The CIC’s Order, based on unreal fears inspired by patriotic fervour, flies in the face of a record of such inquiries in democracies.

In Britain: 1. It defeated Russia in the Crimean War (1853-6) but the heavy cost prompted an inquiry 2. A Royal Commission inquired “into the Dardanalles operations.” Its Report was debated in the House of Commons on March 20, 1917, while WWI was on. 3. The Franks Committee inquired into the Falklands War of April 1982. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and three predecessors gave oral evidence. The Report was published in January 1983. 4. The Butler Report on the Iraq invasion was followed by Lord Chilcot’s inquiry which is still at work.

In the United States: 1. The Senate Armed Forces and Foreign Relations Committees jointly inquired into Truman’s foreign and defence policies in May-June 1952 after he sacked Gen. Douglas MacArthur while the war was on. Top officials were grilled. 2. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara set up on June 17, 1967, the Vietnam Study Task Force. Its Report ran into 47 volumes known as the Pentagon Papers. Copied illegally, they were published by The New York Times on June 13, 1971, during the war. The Supreme Court upheld the paper’s right to publish them. Justice Hugo Black’s remarks are relevant to our case. “The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no security.” 3. Congressional Reports on the 9/11 attack are public documents.

In Israel: 1. It set up a Commission of inquiry, headed by Chief Justice Yitzhak Kahan into the killings in Palestinian Camps in Sabra and Shatila in Beirut in September 1982. 2. A Commission of inquiry by the President of the Supreme Court, Shimon Agranat, inquired into the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Its Report was published after 20 years, but published all the same. 3. Judge Eliyahu Winograd’s Commission censured Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and top army brass in its Report on April 30, 2007, for launching the Second Lebanese War in 2006. Heads had rolled after all these probes — Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon, Menachem Begin. 4. The State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, a watchdog, censured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June this year for mishandling the 2010 raid on a flotilla in May 2010.

Does the Indian citizen deserve less?

(A.G. Noorani is a lawyer, author and commentator. His latest book, Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.)

More In: Lead | Opinion

Nehru promised many more things ,remember the promise to hold plebisite
in jammu & kashmir.

from:  owais dar
Posted on: Jul 3, 2012 at 10:13 IST

People in a democractic country have an abiding right to know the facts revealed by such reports and hold specified persons accountable and responsible to face the consequences. Unfortunately, in India right from Nehru's tenure till now the Govenment never considers necessary to reveal certain established facts in order to save the skin of leaders and bureacrats. Country spends huge amount of tax payers' money to safe guard our country's borders and people from internal and external terrorism and on Committees to investigate the issues. Ultimately, money is spent and people are not allowed to know despite there is a right to information. It is time our Supreme Court and senior advocates must demand from the Government to reveal all facts and make those responsible to face serious consequences in order to save democracy. What is then difference between democracy and dictatorship. This is an example of dictatorship in democracy. How long people should continue to tolerate this.

from:  Dr Amrit Patel
Posted on: Jul 3, 2012 at 07:07 IST

I can am willing to believe in the reasons given for not publishing
the 1962 war report. But this Government’s track record of corruption
and cover-ups are so horrible that I will have difficulty in believing
anything and everything they say. More so because this war happened
when the Congress’s main star sir Nehru was the PM, so all the more
reason for the cover up and all the more reason for us not to believe
in Govt. reasoning.
Hence we would request a committee be formed with no political person,
but people educated in international affair, international politics,
expert on propaganda and background of warfare. Some should be from
prominent Media and from Judiciary. If this committee then advices not
to make it public on the grounds of National security, I guess we will
all believe it.

from:  Vignesh
Posted on: Jul 3, 2012 at 03:02 IST

Its a well accepted theory that 1962 was more due to Nehru ji's grandstanding , based on his percieved image of being the tallest leader of the third world.
1962 was a strategic backlash, A report on failure needs a lot of debate, not specifically to find who was wrong but to find why we were wrong ???
If we are open to debate on true spirit , Report should be make a public document.

from:  Sumitra Kumar
Posted on: Jul 3, 2012 at 01:33 IST

The Indian citizen must be allowed access to the report to be disabused of any fallacious notions, be there any, about the circumstances which led to the 1962 war. We suffered an ignominious defeat with many of our brave soldiers losing their precious lives. We deserve to know the truth so that we learn from the mistakes of the past.

from:  Samir Mody
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 20:24 IST

This is yet another case of people trying to invoke RTI pointlessly. I
wonder what is the need or relevance of this report in the present
Indian scenario. The Government and CIC has every right to decide which
reports are important to national security and which aren't. It is not
Mr. Noorani's decision. None of the reasons provided in the article are
sound enough to warrant a rethink on the decision of the CIC.

from:  Gayathri
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 19:00 IST

ONE BILLION "truth loving patriotic and responsible citizen owing allegience to the Constitution of India" are not enough to counteract ONE anti-National. Therefore, it is better to let the report remain secret. No Indian citizen will suffer substantial harm if it is not made public.

from:  T S Raman
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 18:59 IST

I congratulate Mr. Noorani on his immaculately researched article, which all but lacks a clear sense of fore-sightedness. A sad omission from a distinguished author.
What he forgets is 'precedence'. Being a lawyer he must respect the word most often abused in the Indian judicial system. The CIC and MoD are aware that a disclosure of the said report would have led to a flurry of requests involving sensitive live-issues citing above as a precedence.

I laud Mr. Noorani for the quotes derived from Maxwell, however he conveniently omits the fact that none of them were ever corroborated by the Govt. in the time and afterwards. Precisely for the reason, that he is indulging in: gossip mongering.
Though I feel for Mr. Noorani on the non-availability of the report for further dissection, I laud the better sense that prevailed over MoD and CIC to keep the report a secret.

from:  Piyush Sharma
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 18:31 IST

This article raises a question in my mind, "Are we still following the
policies or plans made for the national security against the foreign
powers or Is this whole drama a big conspiracy?". In either case, the
nation is not safe considering following the former antiquated, obsolete
policies or hiding the invaluable truth in a democratic set-up.

from:  Ashish Goyal
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 18:28 IST

On the 50th anniversary of the 1962 war, only the Hindu has started to
write about it -- it is comforting, given that nearly all our media
has ignored not only the 1962 war but several interesting facets to
it. The suppression of the report is to keep a facade of greatness of
the Nehru family and the Congress.Since independence, we have excelled
in rewarding mediocrity and that it what we have done with the ruling
family. President Kennedy's rushing of arms to India and the USSR's
keeping a "neutral" stand when India begged for help have also been
suppressed over the decades. Nehu, Menon and Kaul authored India's
defeat -- the roles played by these specimen and the facts about the
war should be in schoolbooks for every child to know and learn about
friendships, sacrifices of the jawans, and the havoc that is the
result of weak, corrupt and anti-national leaders.

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 16:57 IST

Mr Noorani seems to take pleasure in denigrating the indian polity and policies at every step of the way. Remember his earlier article on Kasmir issu??
CIC's action in witholding this report is very correct, since the border issue is still hanging, and our official thinking, even of that period, could easily be exploited by the Chinese negotiators. Nehru's atatement quoted here never indicated that the HB report will be out in public domain, but only that a proper enquiry will be made, apparently for the Govt,MOD and AHQ to draw lessons therefrom, if indeed something has been learned(?); and not for a perpetual mud-slinging exercise by vested interests for eternity.

from:  Satindra Bhatia
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 16:17 IST

It is rumoured - and perhaps an open secret - that Gen Henderson-Brooks took a copy of the report on his retirement, and when he migrated to Australia, Neville Maxwell was able to consult it in whole or in part. The incompetence of some of the top brass and the fundamental misunderstanding of Chinese intentions comes out very clearly in the book.

from:  Ravi Rajagopalan
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 16:01 IST

Almost all Indian writers examine the war from a local angle.I have hardly seen an Indian writer bothering about the international context i.e why the conflict erupted at the exact time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and why it ameloriated with the resolution of the same.Obviously somthing more than just coincidence was at work.

from:  taffazull
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 13:00 IST

Pray ! if all the material is available in public domain related to the report and much more has been said about the debacle of 1962, then why this "kolaweri" for the report? possible reason is to make use of this official report to help our enemies' arguments. Otherwise there is no reason to ask for report which is 50 years old and where ground realities have altered. Some intellectuals think that Government is representing Queen Victoria and not the people of India.They are wrong! Let the government decide about this sensitive issue and if required a discussion in Parliament can be arranged.

from:  Anil P.
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 12:51 IST

Well, this article expounds the virtue of true democracy. As the
writer has given several western instances also to establish his
argument that transparency should be an integral part of a democracy.
Does our government consider the Indian citizen to mature enough to
have a report. Why we see that vital informations are being denied to
a common man. Whether it is, like in this case or the swiss bank money
case. Reports are made but governments use their discretion and put a
veil on them. How better we are from the Chinese government. When the
rest of the world draws informations from our reports why we are being
denied. Now there can be two possible causes for that, one is either
the government thinks that these reports will cause unrest among the
common people Or there is a deliberate effort as the report can put a
serious question mark on the functioning of our system on a larger

from:  Rakesh K Tiwari
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 11:47 IST

Mr Noorani's lists out a sequential set of complaints and cites the basis for that. Neville Maxwell in "India's China War" allegedly quoted from H/B report but has never been directly stated that to be the fact. Brigadier Dalvi's book the "Himalayan Blunder" cites some historical events not fully verifiable and explains how he walked into the arms of Chinese who were equally surprised. Reading the work only tells me that the Brig was unfamiliar with the terrain and with insufficient backup decided to respond to orders. Allow to me say that exhibition of incompetence is today as much as it was in the 60s with political interference and reluctance to act decisively. This begs the question why? Well the holy cow of security can always be invoked as it has been in this case. Why does Maxwell not publish his copy of the report? Pray tell us this.

from:  Swapan Chakravarthy
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 10:37 IST

Now the author must realise that who is going to face the egg on the
behalf of chacha nehru and v k menon? As far as Neville Maxwell is
concerned, it is easy for the Britishers to run a propaganda mechanism
to earn bread and butter, by victimising the Indians, Iraqis, or
Afghans. Dont forget Rupert Mudroch in recent past.

from:  samik
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 09:11 IST

Fantastic article.
Like it was said in 'Yes Minister', the Official Secrets Act exists to protect officials, not secrets.
The public deserves to know what exploits were being planned by the Army and the executive in 1962. It is high time that the documents are made public.

from:  Sam R
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 07:25 IST

If Maxwell has the copy of that report then we? This clearly shows the
escapist policy of the govt. running away from hard facts and truth
won't solve the mess in the govt. but facing them and rectifying flaws
shall prevent any such humiliation in future. I can't see why such
reports are made when they are not brought in the public domain for open

from:  Sudhanshu Pathania
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 06:58 IST

I thank A.G.Noorani on behalf of all those truth loving patriotic and responsible citizen owing allegience to the Constitution of India for his valiant journalistic efforts through the years to bring out the full facts behind 1962 war with China which has not only changed the course of India's pattern of development but also changed the definition of "TRUTH" in the dictionary of Govt.Of India and so called Intelligentia.In my view this is the root cause for the decay of various institutions of our republic within a short span of 60 years.Will someone at the top, now,wake up and save the Indian Republic by letting the truth prevail by releasing the Henderson-brooks report referred by Nooraniji.

from:  R.Subbarao
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 06:02 IST

We Indians have all the rights to see the Henderson Brooks report on the 1962 debacle now when 50 years have elapsed.The portions which may be impinging on our relationship with the neighboring countries can be blanked if absolutely essential.If we hide our failures and smugness of political leadership of that period we are liable to be caught napping as it happened in 1999 at Kargil -where we fought with what we had and not what we ought have had.Even this year the outgoing Chief's leaked out letter showed how we have been short in critical areas.Hiding of shortcomings only compounds the problems whereas we should be learning lessons from it.Every one knows that our too much trust on diplomacy/ peace & our the neglect of armed forces lead to the shameful defeat.

from:  Air Cmde Raghubir Singh Retd IDST
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 05:25 IST

The 1962 War was consequence of a set of strategic decisions taken by the political establishment of that time. Military was not part of these decisions but they participated in the execution of these decisions, for which they were not fully prepared. As a comprehensive inquiry, the Henderson Brooks report covers political, strategic, and military aspects of the conflict. If this report was made public in the immidiate aftermath of its completion, the political establishment of that time would take moral responsibility and let the issue be settled. In today's environoment that may not be possible. The ruling establishment depending upon historic legacy of its past leadership wouldn't feel comfortable with any aspersions being caused on tall leaders of that time. The opposition will tend to make it a subject of redicule for political oneupmanship. Military has learned its lessons and has take remedial measures. It is therefore prudent to let this report remain confined to archives.

from:  Surinder
Posted on: Jul 2, 2012 at 01:59 IST
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