Let’s confront the civil-military trends Henderson Brooks report points to.
Following the country’s humiliation in 1962, the then chief of the army staff (COAS), General J.N. Chaudhury instituted an “operational review” to inquire into the reverses suffered by the army. Established on December 14, 1962, the two-man inquiry committee submitted its report, classified as “top secret”, in April 1963. The terms of reference given to Lieutenant General Henderson Brooks, assisted by Brigadier P.S. Bhagat, were to inquire into “what went wrong” with training, equipment, the system of command, the physical fitness of troops and the capacity of commanders at all levels to influence the men under their command. The inquiry committee was neither mandated to nor did it directly comment on the failures and lapses of the political leadership. And yet, the report provides interesting insights on political decision-making.
On September 2, 1963, the then defence minister, Y.B. Chavan, who had taken over from the disgraced V.K. Krishna Menon, told Parliament that Indian reverses were the result of poor military leadership and high-level “interference” in tactical operations. Other reasons listed for the Indian defeat: the Indian troops’ unpreparedness for mountain warfare and unfamiliarity with Chinese tactics, equipment shortages during training and combat, mountain communications difficulties, inadequate military intelligence, the unexpectedness of the Chinese assault, Chinese numerical superiority. Chavan also said only 24,000 Indian troops had been involved in the fighting.
R.D. Pradhan, who was Chavan’s private secretary between 1962 and 1965, provides some insights on the issue, “During the conduct of the inquiry, Chavan was apprehensive that the committee may cast aspersions on the role of the prime minister or the defence minister. Chavan’s main worry was to find ways to defend the government and at the same time to ensure that the morale of the armed forces was not further adversely affected.” He concluded that Chavan had “earned the gratitude of the prime minister”. The classification of the Henderson Brooks report was clearly politically motivated.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, answering a question on the report, told Parliament in 2010 that it could not be made public because an internal study by the army had established that its contents “are not only extremely sensitive, but are of current operational value”. This has been contradicted by several army chiefs.
To maintain that a 51-year-old report is of operational value contradicts the doctrine of common sense. The 112 pages selectively leaked and uploaded by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell on his website on March 17 raise serious questions about the conduct and professionalism of the highest levels of the political and military leaderships.
During a discussion on the Forward Policy in a meeting at the prime minister’s office, then director of the Intelligence Bureau B.N. Mullick’s view continued…