Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Henderson Brooks Report

Full text of the Volume I of the top-secret internal review report of the Indian army to look into the debacle of the 1962 war with China, as made public by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell on his website

The Henderson Brooks Report

The veil over Indian army's internal assessment of the 1962 war with China seems to be finally lifting.

Eighty seven years old Neville Maxwell, the retired New Delhi correspondent for The Times, who published his controversial 1970 book India's China War based on the top-secret Henderson-Brooks report, the Indian army's internal operational review of the debacle of the 1962 war against China, has put up a large section of the hitherto unseen report on his website

Not only the above link, but the entire site, has remained inaccessible hours after news of the report being available there broke.

The report authored by the then Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P S Bhagat was commissioned by the Indian Army following its crushing defeat by the Chinese but the government has refrained from releasing its findings which, it said, were "extremely sensitive" and of "current operational value".

Only two type-written copies of the 1963 report were believed to exist—one with the office of the defence secretary, and the other in the Indian Army's Military Operations directorate, both located on the first floor of the South Block in New Delhi.

With Maxwell going public—albeit only with the first volume of the report (the second volume and annexures, which contain damning correspondence between army commands and Delhi, have been held back, and even page nos 112 to 157 of Volume I are missing)— it is clear that there was indeed at least a third copy in circulation. That he had access to the report has never been doubted or disputed before, because his controversial 1970 book quoted extensively quoted from the report.

The demands for the report to be made public have periodically been made in the past, but the government has been unyielding. "Based on an internal study by the Indian Army, the contents are not only extremely sensitive but are of current operational value,'' Defence Minister A.K. Antony told Lok Sabha in a written reply on April 2010.

The Hindu's Ananth Krishnan, in a report on the newspaper's website quoted Zorawar Daulet Singh, a scholar at King's College London who has written on the war and has read through the volume released by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell on his website, as saying: “Ultimately the buck stops always at the Prime Minister's office,

Singh is quoted as saying that the report revealed that the Army “could have put its foot down and prevented the execution of a militarily unsound policy”. 

Singh also said that he did not believe the report in any way had “operational value” or endangered national security — the official reason for keeping the report classified — and pointed out most Western countries, including even the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, declassified documents after a period of three or more decades.

The report is particularly scathing about the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's Forward Policy, his favourite army officer Lt Gen BM Kaul, and the then director Intelligence Bureau BN Mullick  for the debacle.

Two years back, Claude Arpi, wrote an article  for The Indian Defence Review on Why the Henderson-Brooks report has never been released! in which he concluded:

the Government of India was not keen to show that the 4 Corps Commander (earlier Chief of General Staff in the army Headquarters), Lt. General BM Kaul, a special appointee (and protégé) of Prime Minister Nehru, was not only unsure where the frontier with Tibet was, but took the risk to set up a post in a place which could be north of the border. The Prime Minister was too busy solving the problems of the world to look into these ‘small’ details.

But it was enough for China to have a pretext to attack India a few months later (October 20, 1962).

"This review is not concerned with the probability of conflict with or without the Forward Policy but with its introduction the chances of a conflict certainly increased. What is pertinent here is whether we were militarily in a position to implement this," the report says.

We acted, the report says, on a military unsound basis of not relying on our strength but rather on believed lack of reaction from the Chinese.

"To base military actions and place in jeopardy the security of troops on suppositions and beliefs put across at conference tables indicates either acceptance of the belief or a militarily immature mind," the report scathingly observes.

"Militarily, it is unthinkable that the General Staff did not advise the government on our weakness and inability to implement the Forward Policy," the report says, questioning the actions of Lt Gen B M Kaul, the then Chief of General Staff, who played a key role in shaping the Policy and resigned following the debacle.

The reports said the Defence Ministry might have put on pressure but it was the General Staff's duty to point out the "unsoundness" of the Forward policy without the means to implement it, which was brought out forcibly by the Western Command.

We provide below the prefatory note by Neville Maxwell and the report as put up by him on his website

My Henderson Brooks Albatross (Published 7th February, 2014)

Those who gave me access to the Henderson Brooks Report when I was researching my study of the Sino-Indian border dispute laid down no conditions as to how I should use it. That they would remain anonymous went without saying, an implicit condition I will always observe, otherwise how the material was used was left to my judgement. I decided that while I would quote freely from the Report, thus revealing that I had had access to it (and indeed had a copy), I would neither proclaim nor deny that fact; and my assumption was that the gist of the report having been published in 1970 in the detailed account of the Army’s debacle given in my India’s China War, the Indian government would release it after a decent interval.

In 1962, noting that all attempts in India to make the government release the Report had failed, I decided on a more direct approach and made the text available to the editors of three of India’s leading publications, asking that they observe the usual journalistic practice of keeping their source to themselves. To my surprise the editors concerned decided, unanimously, not to publish.

The passing of years showed that assumption to have been mistaken and left me in a quandary. I did not have to rely on memory to tell the falsity of the government’s assertion that keeping the Report secret was necessary for reasons of national security, I had taken a copy and the text nowhere touches on issues that could have current strategic or tactical relevance. The reasons for the long-term withholding of the report must be political, indeed probably partisan, perhaps even familial. While I kept the Report to myself I was therefore complicit in a continuing cover-up.

I marked the new century by publishing as an “Introduction to the Henderson Brooks Report” a detailed description, and account of the circumstances in which it was written, explaining its political and military context and summarising its findings (EPW, April 14, 2001): there was no public reaction in the Indian press or even among the chauvinist ranks of the academic security establishment. My first attempt to put the Report itself on the public record was indirect and low-key: after I retired from the University I donated my copy to Oxford’s Bodleian Library, where, I thought, it could be studied in a setting of scholarly calm. The Library initially welcomed it as a valuable contribution in that “grey area” between actions and printed books, in which I had given them material previously. But after some months the librarian to whom I had entrusted it warned me that, under a new regulation, before the Report was put on to the shelves and opened to the public it would have to be cleared by the British government with the government which might be adversely interested! Shocked by that admission of a secret process of censorship to which the Bodleian had supinely acceded I protested to the head Librarian, then an American, but received no response. Fortunately I was able to retrieve my donation before the Indian High Commission in London was alerted in the Bodleian’s procedures and was perhaps given the Report.

In 2002*, noting that all attempts in India to make the government release the Report had failed, I decided on a more direct approach and made the text available to the editors of three of India’s leading publications, asking that they observe the usual journalistic practice of keeping their source to themselves. (I thought that would be clear enough to those who had long studied the border dispute and saw no need to depart from my long-standing “no comment” position) To my surprise the editors concerned decided, unanimously, not to publish. They explained that, while “there is no question that the report should be made public”, if it were leaked rather than released officially the result would be a hubbub over national security, with most attention focused on the leak itself, and little or no productive analysis of the text. The opposition parties would savage the government for laxity in allowing the Report to get out, the government would turn in rage upon those who had published it.

Although surprised by this reaction, unusual in the age of Wikileaks, I could not argue with their reasoning. Later I gave the text to a fourth editor and offered it to a fifth, with the same nil result. So my dilemma continued – although with the albatross hung, so to speak, on Indian necks as well as my own.

As I see it now I have no option but, rather than leave the dilemma to my heirs, to put the Report on the internet myself. So here is the text (there are two lacunae, accidental in the copying process).

Henderson Brooks Report as Uploaded by Neville Maxwell

Read a 2012 interview with Neville Maxwell: “China Was The Aggrieved; India, Aggressor In ‘62”

* There seems to have been a typo in Maxwell's original note on his website, as he erroneously writes "In 1962" in place of "In 2002"