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Leaked India-China war report piles pressure on Congress party

The online publication of the Henderson-Brooks report that was compiled in 1963 ignites calls for the Congress-led government to declassify the report.

India fought about a month-long war with China in 1962. About 1,400 Indian soldiers were killed and 4,000 captured. A little more than 700 Chinese soldiers were killed. Larry Burrows / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images / 1962
India fought about a month-long war with China in 1962. About 1,400 Indian soldiers were killed and 4,000 captured. A little more than 700 Chinese soldiers were killed. Larry Burrows / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images / 1962

Samanth Subramanian

Foreign Correspondent

NEW DELHI // India’s government is under pressure to declassify a 51-year-old report that examines one of India’s worst battlefield defeats during its disastrous war with China in 1962.

An Australian journalist, Neville Maxwell, who covered Delhi during the war for The Times of London posted the Henderson-Brooks report on his website, even though it remains classified by the Indian government.

The site has been blocked in India since Tuesday. The government’s department of electronics and information technology has denied blocking the website.

After the report was leaked online, several Indian newspapers have demanded the government declassify the report.

“Most democracies declassify secret documents after a reasonable period of 25-30 years,” the Times of India said on Wednesday in an editorial. “It’s time India too adopted such a policy.”

Vikram Sood, a former director of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency, told The National he was shocked that the government such an old report would remain classified.

“Unless it contains something unexpected, I’m not sure why it’s being treated as radioactive,” Mr Sood said. “So far, whatever has been revealed in the press from the report has been what a lot of us suspected.”

The report’s observation about tactical mistakes, for example, was “common knowledge,” he said.

The report was the result of a 1963 inquiry and written by two army officers: Lt Gen TB Henderson-Brooks and Brigadier PS Bhagat. It is highly critical of the military strategies employed in the war and indirectly blames Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and then leader of the Congress party.

The war lasted a month in late 1962. Its troops were vastly outnumbered and fighting in difficult mountainous conditions with little preparation. About 1,400 Indian soldiers were killed and 4,000 captured. A little more than 700 Chinese soldiers were killed.

The Indian government was responsible for provoking the war because of its Forward Policy, the deployment of personnel far into territory that was in dispute between India and China, according to the report.

“With the introduction of the Forward Policy, the chances of a conflict certainly increased ... that this implementation would bring about a major change in the military situation was obvious and it cannot be viewed as being wise after the event,” the report said.

Mr Sood, who like many Indians has not seen the report, said that the government’s persistence in keeping the report secret was puzzling.

“There have been a lot of other inquiry commissions that worked on Indian wars and their reports were made public. I don’t understand why this one continues to be classified.”

The leaked report comes three weeks before the start of the general election. The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) jumped at the chance to politicise the report.

“The government then was of the Congress led by Jawaharlal Nehru. Today, it is the Congress government led by Manmohan Singh,” Prakash Javadekar, a BJP spokesperson, said on Wednesday. “Both governments are guilty of not giving enough attention to the very important issue of national security.”

The Congress spokesman, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said: “I don’t think such cheap allegations deserve a response. Everybody knows that what happened in 1962 was a product of a complex multitude of diverse factors.”

ssubramanian@thenational.ae