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'Make war records public'

Controversy has swirled around several war accounts even before the battle of Laungewala came under the shadow of a scandal, reports Rahul Singh.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2008 01:19 IST
Rahul Singh

Controversy has swirled around several war accounts even before the battle of Laungewala came under the shadow of a scandal.

Call it misrepresentation of history, history of misrepresentation or simply a fear of uncovering errors. The military has been torpedoed by uncomfortable questions about the haze surrounding the sinking of a warship in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the air force's unflattering comments on the army's handling of the Kargil war and contentious war accounts penned by its own veterans.

After HT ran a series of reports on Laungewala, triggered by diametrically opposed interpretations of that battle by the men who fought it, top military veterans have made a case for the public to get access to India's official war records to exorcise the ghosts of the past. The only war record to have been declassified relates to the 1947-48 Kashmir operations. It was published four decades later in 1987.

Former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said, "Speculation about war accounts is unhealthy. The Laungewala controversy is bad for both Army and Air Force. People have a right to know the real story."

The only official history of the 1962 conflict written so far is the inquiry report on the Indian debacle by Lieutenant General Thomas Bryan Henderson-Brookes, which is still classified and will remain so. Defence Minister AK Antony told Parliament on February 27, "Considering the sensitivity of information contained in the report and its security implications, the report has not been recommended to be declassified."

The government had appointed a committee in October 2001 under former defence secretary NN Vohra to look into publication of war histories. After it submitted its report in July 2002, the MoD's historical section approached the United Service Institution of India (USI) to scrutinise its war histories and eliminate distortions.

Squadron Leader Rana JS Chhina (retd), secretary, Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, USI, said, "War histories have been swept behind the curtain of secrecy. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

Hearing an RTI plea on the sinking of INS Khukri, the Central Information Commission (CIC) had whacked the government in January 2008 for being obsessed with confidentiality. The MoD was asked to outline its declassification policy for releasing information to the public.

Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi, a former vice-chief, said he failed to understand why war histories had not been declassified. Leaked official versions can be found on the Internet but their accuracy is suspect. Reacting to the Laungewala reports, Congress MP Sandeep Dixit said discovering the truth should prevail over everything else. He said it would reinforce confidence in the leadership.

Personal interpretations of wars by retired brass, officials say, are not reliable as there is a tendency to self-glorify and run others down. "It adds to the confusion," Oberoi said.

Information Commissioner AN Tiwari had said while hearing the RTI plea on Khukri, India's biggest wartime casualty, "It is better to draw out a determination as to what details you want to part with and what you do not want to give."

The Khukri saga was immortalised after its commanding officer, Capt Mahender Mulla, refused to abandon the ship and remained seated in the captain's chair till she sank with 18 officers and 178 sailors. Mulla won the Maha Vir Chakra.

However, some Navy officials have raised questions about the circumstances in which Khukri went down.