1962 debacle and Henderson Brooks report

Neville Maxwell has put part of the Henderson Brooks report on the internet generating clamour to make this report public. Governments, including that of the BJP, have been shying away from de-classifying the report. Lt Gen Harwant Singh (Retd) writes

chandigarh Updated: Mar 24, 2014 13:26 IST

Neville Maxwell has put part of the Henderson Brooks report on the internet generating clamour to make this report public. Governments, including that of the BJP, have been shying away from de-classifying the report.

On government’s instructions, the Henderson Brooks inquiry was ordered by the then army chief and was required to look only into those aspects of the debacle that exclusively pertained to the military. Thus its scope was extremely limited and therefore the report essentially covers the failures related to the military with little reference to the political direction. No inquiry into the failures at the political level was undertaken. As for military’s part in this sad chapter, there is very little, which is not already known and to that end, the report has little value at this point of time.

Undoubtedly, there were failures in the military, both at the higher command in Delhi and those in the field. Nehru’s abrasive, curt and sometimes rude manner of dealing with the military’s higher command at Delhi had resulted in his getting no firm military advice on strategic issues related to the Indo-Tibet border or for that matter on any of the other important issues plaguing the forces.

Nehru displayed open disdain for the military. When the issue of suitably arming the army was raised with him, he famously retorted that military, if required, should be prepared to fight with ‘lathies’ (sticks).


Deliberate efforts, more as a policy, were adopted, not to reduce important decisions, etc., in writing. Jawaharlal’s attitude is best showcased when he told the President that, “when he comes across any information, he should not put it in writing; instead he should send for him and talk it over”. In response, the President, in a letter dated December 18, 1959, tells Nehru, “Your suggestion that I should send for you and speak to you… I am afraid this will stultify me in performing my constitutional duty …” Nehru expresses anxiety that, “information should not get into wrong hands.” That perhaps, in a nutshell, explains why full records of the ‘goings-on’ in the government, leading up to and during the 1962 war, were not kept and where kept, were never made public. However, gleaning through the records in the two Houses of Parliament, internal notings between the PMO and ministry of external affairs, and the correspondence with India’s ambassador in Peking and some internal notings on files, do bring out his propensity towards sustained self-deception.

Even when in 1949, China made clear its intentions to ‘liberate’ Tibet, he kept maintaining that invasion of Tibet was most unlikely. In a note to ministry of external affairs, Nehru records, “there is practically no chance of any military danger to India arising from any possible change in Tibet”. This one sentence brings out Nehru’s perception of security issue of such strategic importance.

Yet on September 10, 1949, Nehru records in a note to the finance minister that “China may invade Tibet in a year or so, and that Tibet will not be able to resist the invasion”. On development of roads along the border, in one part he tells the FM not to economise on expenditure and in the same note he states that “we can proceed relatively slowly, as we have time”. Arun Shourie puts it thus, “Nehru was preoccupied with, ‘bigger issues’; that is saving the world from crises, which he believed were imminent.”


Blind to the developing situation in Tibet, Nehru fervently champions China’s case for admitting it in the UN, in Commonwealth, everywhere. A Tibetan delegation comes to meet Nehru and he keeps them waiting for months as he claims to be occupied with world affairs.

He finally meets this delegation on September 8, 1950, and advises it to proceed to Peking and obtain assurances from the Chinese for maintaining Tibet’s autonomy. On the one hand, Nehru paid no heed to Sardar Patel’s warning of China’s intentions, concentration of Chinese forces for an onslaught on Tibet, on the other, he kept giving credence to ambassador Panikkar’s false sense of confidence and intelligence czar Mullick’s assurances that China would want to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. What he meant by suzerainty, for China it meant sovereignty.

This pattern of self-deception continues till the very outbreak of hostilities. All warnings of developments in Tibet and Chinese intentions do not register with him. He adopts an attitude of, ‘hear no evil, speak no evil’. All this while military’s strength is being reduced and no replacement of obsolete weapons is undertaken, nor infrastructure along the Tibet border developed. Self-deception, ambiguity, ambivalence and status quo persists, till the very end, while ominous clouds build up along the Indo-Tibet border. (To be concluded) (The writer, former deputy chief of the army staff, is commentator on defence and security matters. Views expressed are personal)

First Published: Mar 24, 2014 13:20 IST