Henderson Bhagat Report

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C K Jam

Jul 2, 2012, 1:16:31 PM7/2/12
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Publish the 1962 war report now

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 T.B. Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P.S. Bhagat, V.C., will not be published follows an Order of March 19, 2009 by a Bench of the Central Information Commission comprising the Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, and the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.)


Jul 3, 2012, 10:01:10 PM7/3/12
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Dear CK............
My tangential coments do not reflect any in-depth knowledge on the subject.
As stated by so many, otherwise, many segments of the report are already published and available for the interested.
But, not-with-standing what Nehru may have promised decades ago, if the contents of the report should compromise, or endanger, the strategic positioning of the boundary lines, and therefore future relationship / negotiations with the neighbour, we should not be a party to placing undue burden on India's future generations. The media would always wish to have      " Break News " and gather credit for themselves, there-on place tremendous load on the Govt and people of the day.
Best Regards...............mkc.................

vinay singh

Jul 4, 2012, 11:46:20 AM7/4/12
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Please read the brief below, which has been handed over to the COAS. The most telling reason for releasing the HB Report and declassifying military records of 1962 is the the effect on our defence preparedness.

Maj Gen VK Singh


            Military records of the period after 1961 have still not been declassified. As a result, they are not available to research scholars or military training institutions. This is adversely affecting not only the training of military leaders but also our defence preparedness, especially with regard to China. The recent developments in this matter are given below.

The official histories of the Hyderabad Police Action of 1948 and the Liberation of Goa in 1961 were published History Division of the MOD in 1972 and 1974 respectively. This was followed by the publication in 1987 of the history of the Jammu & Kashmir operations of 1947-48.  The History Division submitted the official history of the 1971 war to the Government in 1988, followed by those of the 1962 and 1965 wars in 1990 and 1992 respectively. However, their publication was stopped by the Ministry of Defence, reportedly at the instance of the Ministry of External Affairs.

In September 2000, The Times of India put the 1965 and 1971 histories on its website with the curt comment: “Official military histories of the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars exist, but successive governments, obsessed with secrecy, have refused to make them public". Subsequently, the official histories of 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars were also put on the website of Bharat Rakshak. The title of each of the three books indicates that it is the ‘Official History’ with the copy right held by the History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India. The histories of the 1962 and 1965 wars are graded ‘Restricted’ while that of 1971 does not bear any security classification.

In 2000, based on the Kargil Review Committee report, the Government constituted a Group of Minister (GOM) on National Security.  Among the various issues considered by the GOM in the Chapter dealing with Management of Defence was the publication of war histories. The GOM Report stated:  The Ministries of Defence and External Affairs may review the issue of publication of the official histories of the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars and a history of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) operations and finalise the decision within a period of three months.


In accordance with the recommendations of the GOM, the Ministry of Defence constituted a committee to formulate recommendations on publishing the histories of the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars. The committee was headed by ex defence secretary N.N. Vohra, the other two members being Lieutenant General Satish Nambiar and historian S.N. Prasad. The Committee recommended that the three war histories should be published. However, the Ministry of External Affairs again raised objections, raising fears about China’s sensibilities.


            On 26 November 2007, replying a question on the publication of the war histories, Defence Minister AK Antony told parliament, “A committee to review the publication of war histories, constituted by the Government, has given its recommendations. The recommendations of the committee are being considered for arriving at a final decision on the issue.” This was five years after the committee had submitted its recommendations. Another five years have gone by, with no progress on the issue.

In 2011, a book titled The India Pakistan War of 1965 – A History was published by Natraj Publishers, Dehradun. The book is a verbatim reproduction of the official 1965 history produced by the History Division in 1992, which is available on the website of Bharat Rakshak. There are some cosmetic changes – the Foreword written by the N.N. Vohra and the Preface written by S.N. Prasad has been omitted, as also the name of the author, Dr. B.C Chakravorty. Instead, S.N. Prasad is shown as the ‘Chief Editor’ and U.P. Thapliyal as the ‘General Editor’. The text and appendices are exactly the same as in the original book. The copyright is still in the name of the Ministry of Defence.

Strangely enough, the new book contains references to classified material which were not cited even in the original book. The Notes and References at the end of each chapter list a large number of official documents, including JIC papers and war diaries of formations and units, which were earlier not cited or mentioned only as ‘official records’. How did this happen? Apparently, fed up with the delay in publication of the ‘official history’ on which they had worked so hard, the concerned officials in the History Division prevailed on the MOD to declassify certain documents. This was done by a board of officers, which comprised one representative each from the History Division, and the directorates of Military Operations and Military Intelligence. The board was asked to examine only the documents that were intended to be cited for production of the 1965 war history in printed form. This was promptly done in 2005. As a result, the book was published in 2011, without any hitch. Similar boards have been conducted for documents pertaining to the 1962 and 1971 wars.

            The paranoia about the 1962 war is not confined to the official history. Of late, it is even being applied to regimental histories, which are published by respective regimental officers associations or regimental centres. In most cases, the author is a retired officer from the regiment, who is given access to regimental records, secretarial assistance and a suitable honorarium. According to the latest guidelines, the draft regimental history is submitted to the military intelligence (MI) directorate of Army HQ for clearance. If operations are described, it is sent to the military operations (MO) directorate.  In keeping with the decision of the Ministry of Defence not to declassify war records of 1962, 1965 and 1971, the regimental history is cleared for publication with the security classification ‘Restricted’ or ‘Confidential’. As a result, veterans who have taken part in these wars cannot purchase copies. In fact, even the author cannot keep a copy! As far as the 1962 war is concerned, it is to be omitted altogether. If one goes by these guidelines, the Indian Army did not fight any war in 1962!

Interestingly, the Indian Navy follows a system different form the Indian Army. Instead of the history being screened by Naval Intelligence, it is cleared by a board of admirals, constituted by the Vice Chief of Naval Staff. As a result, several volumes of the history of the Indian Navy authored by a retired officer have been published, including one that covers the 1965 and 1971 wars, not to speak of several sensitive warship development projects. Surely, the operations of land forces cannot be considered classified, when those of naval forces are not, during the same period or in the same war or conflict.

A recent development has highlighted the grave dangers that we are likely to face, in any future conflict with China. Through the efforts of the United Service Institution of India (USI), some Chinese accounts of the 1962 war have been translated. An article titled “1962 – Battle of Se La and Bomdi La” has been published in the October-December 2011 issue of the prestigious USI Journal, India’s oldest journal on defence affairs. Authored by Major General PJS Sandhu (Retd), the Deputy Director of the USI, the article clearly brings out that the Chinese had made a deep study of the battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War of 1950-53, in which they were pitted against the US Army in conditions similar to what they had to face in 1962.  A comparison of the terrain, force levels and tactics employed by the Chinese reveals startling similarities in the two campaigns. In Korea, by about 25 November 1950 the US 1st Marine Division had reached the Chosin Reservoir and was poised the final push to the Yalu River. It was strung along 62 kilometres between Yudam- ni in the north and Chinhung-ni in the south. Facing the American troops were three Chinese armies (12 divisions) of the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) IX Army Group. By the morning of 28 November, the Chinese had split the Americans into three isolated groups at Yudam-ni, Hagaru and Koto-ri.

The situation in NEFA in 1962 was almost a mirror image of the Chosin Reservoir battle in 1950. After losing the battle of the Thag La Ridge in October 1962, the 4th Division of the Indian Army withdrew south of Tawang and concentrated on the axis Se La - Bomdi La, a distance of 61 kilometres.  Commencing the second phase of the offensive in mid November, the Chinese carried out a series of outflanking manoeuvres, splitting the Indian forces into three pockets, at Se La, Dirang Dzong and Bomdi La. But the parallel with Korea ends here. In 1950, the Americans were better equipped and had overwhelming air support. Moreover, they were bubbling with confidence, conscious of their superiority in men and material. In 1962, the Indians had already lost the first round, and were relatively demoralized. They had acute shortages of arms, ammunition and clothing. Most important, artillery support was meagre and air support non –existent, thanks to a political decision not use the air force, fearing an escalation of the conflict. The result in both cases was along expected lines. With the help of air power, the US 1st Marine Division fought through the Chinese encirclement. It survived as a fighting force, even after suffering nearly 4400 battle casualties, including 718 dead. In 1962, the Indian 4th Division was virtually annihilated, suffering 5100 casualties of all types. The Chinese reached the Assam plains, before announcing a unilateral cease fire.

The USI article brings out several other similarities between the two campaigns and the lessons that should be learnt. Much before the actual commencement of the hostilities in October 1962, the Chinese had made their intentions known through subtle signals that Indian diplomats and political leaders failed to read. These included messages conveyed through the Indian envoy in Beijing in 1950, K.M. Pannikar and to the Indian Foreign Minister, Krishna Menon by his Chinese counterpart, Marshal Chen Yi, at Geneva in July 1962. Incidents at Dhola post and Thagla ridge in June and September 1962 conveyed a similar message, which Indian intelligence officials and defence planners failed to interpret correctly, with disastrous results. As the USI article succinctly brings out, recent events in the East and South China Seas from 2010 onwards have similar portents, which must be read correctly, to prevent a repetition of the situation that occurred 50 years ago.

A study of the Chinese documents brings out some startling facts, hitherto unknown to Indian military planners. The Chinese had been able to make fairly accurate assessments of Indian forces opposing them in 1962. This included strength, dispositions, fighting capabilities, morale, critical shortages in weapons and ammunition and so on. They had also made accurate profiles of Indian political and military leaders.  But the most telling feature was the tactics which were adopted, based on their experience in the Korean War 12 years earlier. Against this, the Indian military command was fighting virtually with its eyes closed. Let alone an accurate assessment of the Chinese tactics, we had very little knowledge of the Chinese soldier, his weaponry, morale, logistics etc. This led to the popular ‘human wave’ stories of that era, which depicted the Chinese soldier as a superman who could fight for days and weeks without food or rest. There is little doubt that Indian military commanders would have given a better account if they had access to as much information about their adversary as the Chinese had in 1962.

If and when there is a confrontation between India and China, it will be in exactly the same place where they fought in 1962 – NEFA (now Arunachal) and Jammu & Kashmir. Today, there is not a single man in military uniform who was serving when we fought the last war with China. Battles that took place during that war – Namka Chu, Se la, Bomdi la,  Walong and Rezang La, to name a few – are not studied by young officers for promotion examinations or in the training academies, since authentic records such as war dairies and after action reports are not available to them. By denying Indian officers the opportunity to study our past campaigns, the government is inadvertently ensuring that our performance in future wars with China and Pakistan would not be at optimum levels. Is there any point in increasing the defence budget and giving modern equipment to the defence services when we know that they will lose the battle even before it begins? One hopes that someone in the Ministry of Defence and Army Headquarters realises grave damage they are doing to our present and future generations of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Should we send our men to fight and die with blind folds on their eyes?


The Government should permit the publication of the war histories of 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars in printed form. This should be done after a deliberate decision to declassify all the war records pertaining to these operations and not selectively as has been done for the 1965 war.  According to the Public Records Act and the Public Records Rules, every records creating agency is required to evaluate and downgrade the classified records held by it after every five years. It is also required to submit a bi-annual report to the Director General of the National Archives on the action taken for evaluation and downgrading the classified records. This procedure, mandated by law, is not being followed, a lapse for which the service headquarters, Ministry of Defence as well as the Director General of the National Archives cannot escape responsibility. The three service headquarters must fulfil their part of the bargain, by regularly de-classifying records and transferring them to the History Division and the National Archives.


There is also a need to review the rules for publication of regimental histories. Books written by retired officers or civilians do not require clearance by military intelligence. Of course, if any classified information is disclosed, the authors face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Regimental histories should also be treated in the same manner, since they are authored by retired officers and published by regimental officers associations. There are cases when regimental histories have been published either without obtaining clearance or ignoring the instructions of military intelligence to grade them as ‘restricted’.


Jul 5, 2012, 10:15:54 PM7/5/12
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Yes sir..... You have said it all. Clear and real Proper, in your last 7 paras.
Therefore, what in the world prevents / is holding up our THINKERS, PLANNERS and TRAINERS from applying all these readily available knowledge in and outside the published infos and build up our men, officers, equipments and strategies. Are we still waiting for the Commas and Full stops in a report ( or any confidentialty on strategic informations ) alone to get prepared for our present and future days.
While being some what complementory, Intellect and Intelligence aren't quite the two sides of the same coin. They definitely needn't be at all,  for effective development of confidence in preparedness. A mind-set that I am good enough only when equipped with detailed informations from the mass of past junks is belittling the ingenuity and intelligence elevation of our present generation, given the present situations, technology inputs and the state of art in conduct of conflicts / warfare. We definitely woudn't benefit to the extent of winning a war through Nepoleanic Strategies in toto, however successfull they all were at a time, place and situations.
To my very simple, and clearly lesser informed mind, we are placing too much of importance to a report of a team of people, prepared some half century ago when most of the facts and people involved with their flaws and otherwise are all available and open to us for discussions and learning processes, to the extent of being usefull today, and the near future. Only exception being that Our Himalayas have not changed except for a few well developed access around the fringes.
The media, ofcourse, have a lot to gain for filling up their columns and screen times through continued discussions.
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