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Henderson Brooks Report on 1962 War: ‘Secrecy’ an Ostrich Act


There is nothing new about the Henderson Brooks- P S Bhagat Report, the only fact that is established by Neville Maxwell by uploading it on his website is that he indeed possessed a copy as was widely believed, for he has vastly quoted from the Report in his book India’s China War published eight years after the 1962 blunder. The Chinese government is also believed to own a copy as is clear from the books written in Chinese on 1962. Therefore, to keep the Report a ‘top secret’ as is the case with other archival documents pertaining to British India and Tibet is indeed an ostrich act. Declassifying the Report will demonstrate the willingness of the government to learn from our past mistakes, that it is ready to overhaul country’s defence strategies and preparedness as well as incoherent policy decisions between various ministries and departments. Therefore, the government must declassify it in supreme national interest.

Maxwell has held the prematurely conceived ‘forward policy’ of India as a culprit for the war, where as he has maintained a silence on the changing border lines in the Western Sector, especially the 1960 claim line by China. He had no answer for the same when he visited my department in late 80s. Therefore, in order to understand the matrix of ‘forward policy’ it is imperative to understand the overall border situation prevalent at that point in time. The situation on the borders had deteriorated drastically in the wake of Sino-Indian agreement of 1954 and had culminated in the Konka and Longju bloody incidents on Western and Eastern Sectors. The Tibetan revolt and the flight of the Dalai Lama in 1959 added fuel to the fire. The opportunity of reaching out a settlement when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai visited India in 1960 was lost as India was not willing to negotiate the undemarcated and undefined border.

In the face of such a hostile coexistence, China built up its defenses and enhanced communication links in the border areas. Apart from building Aksai Chin Road, Shi (1992: 163) tells us that “By May 1960 a road connecting western Tibet with the Indian border was completed. A network of roads connecting Lhasa to Thagla Ridge was also completed and huge quantities of military supplies found their way to the border.” In the Western Sector, beside Aksai Chin Highway, Lanak La was connected to Kongka by roads. After the failure of official level talks, the Chinese opened new posts at Nyagzu and Dambuguru. In 1961 these posts were connected to Khurnak Fort and Kongka La by constructing a road. Another road connected Rudok with Spanggur was also completed. The Chinese also started construction work on three new roads in Ladakh. One from Samzungling along the Galwan river; another from Khurnak Fort to the vicinity of the Sirijap; and the third from Spanggur to Shinzang along the southern bank of Spanggur lake (Manekar 1968: 38, 41). Nyagzu and Dambuguru were converted into military bases in 1961.

By mid 1960, China established three regimental headquarters, one at Qizil Jilga, another near Lanak La and a third at Rudok. According to Mullik (1971: 313), the then Director of Indian Intelligence, by October 1961 China had established 61 new posts – seven in Ladakh, fourteen opposite the Central Sector, twelve facing Sikkim in the Chumbi Valley, three opposite Bhutan and twenty-five across NEFA border. According to Mullik, seven new roads constructed in the Indian territory were close to the Central Sector border and eight to the border in the Eastern Sector. China was seriously preparing for war; on the other hand India was clueless as regards how to calibrate its border policy, the response came in the form of ill fated ‘forward policy’.

In order to counter the Chinese incursions, India according to Prasad (1992: 65, emphasis added) prepared an appreciation of the threat posed by the Chinese in September 1959. It deduced that with present state of development it is unlikely that the Chinese can launch a major incursion on any part of the country or create a situation where there is a likelihood of major operations taking place. However, it was also stated that “the intentions of [the Chinese] coming over Himalayas onto our side is apparent.” Based on the assessment of the Chinese strength across the border, the appreciation recommended positioning of troops in various sectors to counter the Chinese threat. The recommendations could not be implemented immediately due to logistic problems; moreover, the Indian leadership also shared the view that China would not resort to a large-scale aggression. It was after the Kongka Pass incident that the Eastern Sector was put under army command and construction of roads given high priority from early 1960 with the establishment of General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF).

The so-called ‘forward policy’ was crystallised in a high level meeting under Prime Minister Nehru on 2 November 1961. The meeting was attended by Defence Minister, Krishna Menon, Foreign Secretary, M. J Desai, Chief of the Army Staff, General P. N. Thapar, Lt. General Kaul, Director Intelligence Bureau, B. N. Mullik, Brigadier Palit and other officials. The government directive (Maxwell 1970: 221-22; Mullik 1971: 314 emphasis added) that was issued after this meeting envisaged:

a) So far as Ladakh is concerned, we are to patrol as far forward as possible from our present positions towards the international border. b) As regards UP [Uttar Pradesh, now Uttranchal in Middle Sector] and other northern areas. We should as far as practicable, go forward and be in effective occupation of the whole frontier. Where there are any gaps, they must be covered either by patrolling or by posts. c) In view of the numerous operational and administrative difficulties, efforts should be made to position major concentration of forces along our borders in places conveniently situated behind the forward posts from where they should be maintained logistically and from where they can restore a border situation at short notice.

It could be gleaned from this government directive that in wake of the Chinese advances it was construed that the ‘forward policy’ would prevent the Chinese to occupy more ‘Indian territories.’ This in other words implied that India would violate the status quo on boundary and move into the area it considered belonged to India. However, the notion was formulated on the ill-conceived apprehensions that China would not retaliate. Moreover, most of the forward posts were dependent on air dropped supplies due to poor communication and logistic problems. As recorded by Prasad at al. (1992: 69), the troops were dispersed into small, isolated posts each barely 10-20 [men] strong. The posts acted as “flag posts” merely to show physical presence of the Indian troops. Not getting involved with the Chinese was also ill conceived notion, for according to China’s interpretations of international border India had occupied vast areas of ‘Chinese territory’ and was determined to eject India from these areas as was witnessed in Longju and Kongka Pass incidents. Prasad (1992: 70-71) quoting official records notes that by the end of September 1962, 36 Indian posts [43 according to China as on 20 October, Shi 1992:155; Yang 1992: 308] were established in Ladakh as against 47 set up by the Chinese in the area. In the Eastern Sector, 34 new posts were established by 20 July 1962. In this process some of the posts established by India actually crossed the McMahon Line; India ignored the line on the ground and followed the watershed principle. According to Chinese interpretation (Yang 1992: 306), India establishing check posts in between already established Chinese posts and sending forward patrols was aimed to cut the supply routes of the Chinese posts and force them to withdraw in a “Napoleonic victory style.”

China reacted sharply to the Indian forward policy, especially in the Western Sector. In a note of 30 November 1961 (White Paper VI: 3-4, 15), China protested Indian attempts “to realise its territorial claims unilaterally and by force” and threatened that if India did not stop its moves in Western Sector, China would be forced to cross the so called “McMahon Line.” In another note on 1 March 1962, China accused India of refusing to hold the negotiations and “continuing its illegal occupation of the so-called McMahon Line in the Eastern Sector,” while demanding that China withdraw from its own territory in the Western Sector. India refuted Chinese charges in a note on 13 March 1962 and expressed that it was not averse to negotiations provided China vacate the Indian territory it occupied since 1957 (White Paper VI: 18). India argued that the status quo of 1957 would be an essential step for the creation of a favourable climate for any negotiations on border by India and China. In another note of 14 May 1962, India urged China “to give serious consideration to the offer made in the Indian Prime Minister’s letter dated 16 November 1959 to Premier Chou [Zhou] Enlai, which inter alia proposed as an interim measure that, in the Ladakh region, the Government of India should withdraw their personnel to the west of the line shown in the 1956 Chinese map, and the Government of China should withdraw their personnel to the east of the international boundary shown in the Indian official maps (White Paper VI: 43).” India also stated that the adoption of this suggestion would lead to the relaxation of tension in this border region and creates the necessary atmosphere for the settlement of the boundary problem by negotiations and discussions. China spurned the Indian proposal and reiterated its earlier position that for China it would mean to evacuate some 33,000 square kilometres of its own territory, while India would have withdrawn from only a few points occupied by it more recently (White Paper VI: 57). China also stated that it was willing to consider the Indian proposal provided India withdraws from Eastern Sector to the south of the line shown in the Chinese maps.

The stream of notes continued between India and China but both parties were reluctant to compromise on their stated positions. On ground, the Chinese increased their troop deployment in all the sectors. By the beginning of September 1962, China had deployed 6 battalions along the northern frontier; in Eastern Sector some 19 battalions were deployed. Six battalions were deployed in Ladakh facing the Middle Sector, besides many battalions were kept ready as reserves (Prasad 1992: 74-75). From July onward, China started directly intimidating Indian posts by surrounding them and opening fire at them. Starting from 10 July 1962, the Chinese troops surrounded an Indian post in Galwan and cut the supply route of this post for several days. This incident was followed by Chinese firing at many other posts including Daulat Beg Oldi camp on 21 July and 4 August 1962. On 8 September 1962 the Chinese troops surrounded Dhola [Chedong] and attempted to blow it up with grenades on 20 September. On 9th September India 1962 in a high level meeting in the Ministry of Defence presided by Defence Minister, Krishna Menon and attended by Chief of the Army Staff, General P. N. Thapar, General Officer Commanding (GOC) Eastern Command, Lt. General L. P. Sen, Cabinet Secretary S. S. Khera, B. N. Mullik and a few others, it was decided that the Chinese must be evicted from south of the Thag La Ridge immediately and by force if necessary (Prasad 1992: 94-95). The operation was code named “Leghorn.” Orders to this effect were immediately flashed to GOC XXXIII Corps, Lt. General Umrao Singh, Divisional Commander, Major General Niranjan Prasad and others to put the operation in effect. This would mean that the Indian forces in Eastern Sector would go on offensive and India should be prepared for a bigger conflict with China.

According to Lt General B. M Kaul (Kaul 1967: 356), a relative of Nehru who has also been indicted by Henderson writes that when order reached the concerned officers they expressed their inability to carry out the order in face of comparatively adverse build up, limited reinforcement ability in view of the lack of troops and roads, shortage of ration, winter clothes, ammunition, and inadequacy of fire support. The officers squarely put it forth that “the task of clearing the Chinese south of Thag La Ridge was beyond the capability of our troops.” However, irrespective of outmoded equipments, logistic and communication problems, and sheer numerical superiority of the Chinese forces, the Indian government pushed Indian forces to a vulnerable position and announced publicly on 18 September that the Army had been instructed to drive the Chinese out of the Dho La [Chedong according to China] in Thag La area. Going by the Simla Convention map, Dho La stood north of the McMahon Line. The army also discussed this issue in a meeting held at Tezpur, Assam on 13 September 1962. It was raised that the available maps with the Army showed McMahon Line running south of the Thagla Ridge. On 3 October 1962, Lt.General Kaul, who had no combat experience, was made Commander of the IV Corps, a newly raised Corps. The responsibility of evicting the Chinese was transferred to this Corps from the XXXIII Corps and General Umrao Singh was divested of the responsibility for Eastern Sector. With Lt. General Kaul’s adventurism, Indian forces, clad in cotton uniforms in biting cold and frost in the Himalayas with pouch ammunition set off to “evict” the Chinese in the Eastern Sector which had remained generally calm except a few incidents near the McMahon Line.

It could be gleaned from these facts that the collision course was set in a self-destructive move. It was foolish to think that the Chinese would not launch a massive strike in the territory they considered belonged to them. According to a Chinese account (Shi 1992: 210-11) India shot dead two Chinese soldiers on 20 September 1962 in picket south of the Bridge II on Namka Chu river [called Kejilang river by the Chinese]. This according to China was the first incident of firing by Indian troops in the Eastern Sector, which broke the dead silence of the Namka Chu area. In another meeting in September Mao, Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai and Chen Yi deliberated on “Operation Leghorn” and reported a possible date of Indian action as 10 October 1962. Mao was furious and spoke emphatically, ‘we have fought with Chiang [Kai-shek], the Japanese and the American, and have never been cowed down, rather we have defeated them all. If the Indian people want to fight us, of course we are not afraid. We will not compromise; compromise would mean the occupation of an area equal to Fujian province [of China].” Zhou added, “We do not want to fight a war with India, we had all along endeavoured and hoped that we would solve our boundary issue with India in a friendly manner as we have done with Nepal, Burma and Mongolia etc. countries. But Nehru has shut all the doors for such a resolution; the only option left out by him is the war. I think to fight a bit has also its advantages, it could prove an eye opener to some people.”

In a broadcast to the nation on 22 October, Nehru called on the people to face united “the greatest menace that has come to us since we became independent.” The Chinese assault, said the Prime Minister “…brought us, made us realise, that we were getting out of touch with realities in the modern world. We were living in an artificial atmosphere of our own creation and we have been shocked out of it…” 50 years down the line, it appears that India is still out of touch with the realities in the era of information age; we are still living in the artificial atmosphere of ‘secrecy’ hope it does not take us another blunder to be shocked out of it!

References:

Kaul, B M (1967) The Untold Story, Allied Publishers, Bombay Manekar, D. R (1968). The Guilty Men of 1962. Tulsishah Enterprises, Bombay Maxwell, Neville (1970). India’s China War. Jonathan Cape Limited, London. Mullik, B. N (1971). My Years with Nehru, the Chinese Betrayal. Allied Publishers, New Delhi. Prasad, S. N ed. (1992). History of the Conflict with China, 1962, (unpublished report). History Division. Ministry of Defence, Government of India, New Delhi. Shi, Bo 师博 (1993). 1962:中印大战纪实1962: zhongyin dazhan jishi (1962: Records of Sino-Indian War). Chinese Earth (Zhongguo Dadi) Publishers, Beijing. White Papers [Notes, memoranda and letters exchanged and agreement signed between the Governments of India and China], White Paper No. II, September-November 1959; No. III, November 1959-March 1960; No. IV, March-November 1960; No. V, November 1960-November 1961; No. VI, November 1961-July 1962; No. VII, July-October 1962; No. VIII, October 1962-January 1963; No. IX, January-July 1963. Government of India Press, New Delhi. Yang, Gongsu 杨公素(1992). 中国反对外国侵略干涉西藏地方斗争史 zhongguo fandui waiguo qinlue ganshe xizang difang douzhengshi ( History of China’s Struggle and Resistance to the Foreign Invasion and interference in Tibet). China’s Tibetology Publications, Beijing.

(The writer Mr. B.R. Deepak, Professor & Chair Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Email: deepak110@yahoo.com)

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