Expectedly, the BJP accused the Congress of compromising the country’s military preparedness, then as well as now, while the latter slammed the former for playing “cheap politics” ahead of Lok Sabha polls. Under Nehru’s ‘Forward Policy’, Indian troops were directed to patrol and establish posts ahead of their existing positions on the unsettled border despite not having the military wherewithal to do so.
The man responsible for the furore, 87-year-old Australian journalist and author Neville Maxwell, however, was sitting far away in a different continent. Though known for long that Maxwell had based his controversial but authoritative 1970 book ‘India’s China War’ on the Henderson Brooks report while in New Delhi as a foreign correspondent, he removed all doubt by posting the classified Indian Army report on his website a few days ago.
“The reasons for the long-term withholding of the report must be political, indeed probably partisan, perhaps even familial,” Maxwell said on his website, expressing frustration over the way the Indian government had not declassified the report even after 50 years.
Access to the report on Maxwell’s website was blocked soon after it was posted. This led to speculation that Indian authorities had quietly worked behind the scenes, once again, to keep the Henderson Brooks report under wraps.
The report has been closely-guarded by successive governments since it was submitted in April 1963. As it is, only two original copies of the entire report are known to exist, one in the defence secretary’s office and the other in the Army’s military operations directorate, both on the first floor of South Block.
“Given the extremely sensitive nature of the contents of the report, which are of current operational value, it is reiterated that the government has classified it as a top-secret document and, as such, it would not be appropriate to comment on the contents uploaded by Maxwell on the web,” the defence ministry said on Tuesday.
The Henderson Brooks report, incidentally, did not delve into the political failures. Instead, it was an exhaustive operational review of the military debacle in 1962. While blaming the ‘Forward Policy’ for provoking China when the Indian military was ill-prepared in Ladakh and NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh), the report severely indicted then senior Army generals like Lt-Gen B M Kaul and Maj-Gen A S Pathania for the complete rout and the haphazard, unplanned withdrawal.
The report’s covering note, written by Gen J N Chaudhuri who took over as Army chief after the conflict, however, blamed defence minister V K Krishna Menon for gross interference in military matters, among other things.