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Brooks Report: Four failures that led to the 1962 debacle

By Ram Madhav
March 21, 2014 15:37 IST
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Jawaharlal NehruIt is well-known, and the Brooks-Bhagat report vouches for it, that the real failure for the 1962 debacle against China was not military, but political, says Ram Madhav.

As the news of the leak of Henderson Brooks report tumbled out in the media, the Congress Party’s reaction was that there was no mention of Jawaharlal Nehru’s name in that and hence he shouldn’t be blamed for whatever had happened then. This is a weird argument. As the prime minister of India not just during the period of war but at least a dozen years prior to that, Nehru can’t be absolved of his failures that had led to defeat in the war, loss of territory and loss of face.

The Henderson Brooks-P S Bhagat Committee was instituted by the government in March 1963, a full four months after the war had ended. Lieutenant General Brooks and Brigadier Bhagat were known to be no-nonsense officers. Their report was submitted to the defence ministry in May 1963. For the last 51 years, the reported has been gathering dust in South Block cupboards.

In September 1963, the then Defence Minister Yashwantrao Chavan took the plea that publishing this report would ‘not only endanger our security but affect the morale of those entrusted with safeguarding the security of our borders’.

In 2012, the present Defence Minister A K Antony too rejected the demand for the declassification of the report on the specious ground that it would ‘adversely impact the government of India’s sovereign interests’.

Since the report was commissioned by the government of the day, it is natural that it didn’t contain the names of the political leadership of the day, namely Nehru, Krishna Menon etc. But it is well-known, and the Brooks-Bhagat Report vouches for it, that the real failure for the 1962 debacle was not military, but political.

Failure 1: India’s refusal to support the Tibetan cause.

Despite repeated requests from the Tibetan government and suggestions by the western powers, Nehru refused to help Tibet when Maoist China launched its ‘continuous aggression’ in 1950. The Korean crisis broke out around that time. Nehru called for a special session of Parliament to discuss the Korean crisis.

But when it came to discussing China’s annexation of Tibet, Nehru’s response was that ‘Tibet, as far as we are concerned, is simple’. It was taken up only as part of a routine discussion on international relations. He was championing the cause of China’s entry into the United Nations at that time. Hence he refused to raise the Tibetan issue in the UN; and when a tiny country like El Salvador raised it he instructed India’s Representative B N Rao to make sure that the UN doesn’t include it in the agenda. India watched silently when China slowly but surely occupied Tibet and stood at its own doorstep by 1952.

Failure 2: Panchsheel.

Described aptly by veteran Congress leader K R Kripalani, Panchsheel was ‘born in sin’. Having watched demurely the occupation of Tibet by China, India had, through this agreement, put its stamp of approval on the occupation. Amid the cries of ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ India and China signed the historic Panchsheel Agreement on April 29 1954. Nehru exuberantly declared in the Indian Parliament on May 18 1954 that “We have done no better thing than this since we became independent”.

However, the fact is, this disastrous agreement had officially and fatally undone all that good work done over decades to uphold the independence of Tibet. It was the very title ‘Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibetan region of China and India’, which proved fatal to the Tibetan cause.

It must be borne in mind that the Shimla Agreement of 1914 was entered into for the same purpose. But the British were shrewd enough to enter into the agreement with the Tibetans while the Chinese were called in as mere observers. Panchsheel was naturally a windfall for China. Interestingly while Nehru claimed credit for Panchsheel, then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai told then US President Richard Nixon in 1973 that: “Actually the five principles (Panchsheel) were put forward by us, and Nehru agreed. But later on he didn’t implement them.”

Panchsheel brought nothing but ignominy to us. Friends felt betrayed; China never believed in the spirit of the agreement and violated it just within three months after signing. Originally conceived for eight years, the agreement died a natural death exactly in same period with the Chinese attacking India in 1962.

Failure 3: Not containing China in time

The Nehru government had the information about the transgressions by the Chinese in the Aksai Chin area in 1952 itself. B N Mullick, Nehru’s intelligence Chief sent messages in 1952 that the Chinese were engaged in converting a mule track into a jeep track in the Aksai Chin area. By 1953 Nehru had the information that the jeep track was being fast updated into a highway.

Starting with 1955 regular clashes began between the two forces. In 1957 the Chinese media had officially announced that they were building a highway linking Xinjiang with Tibet through Aksai Chin. Yet, Nehru kept the country in dark until 1959. Finally when he was forced to concede he resorted to lies and polemics.

In a letter to China he insinuated that the Chinese workers working in Aksai Chin region ‘had not secured valid visas’, as though that was the real problem.  Nehru and Menon were even unwilling to take up the issue at the UN. “The UNO has not defined aggression,” was Menon’s comic argument.

Failure 4: No preparation for war.

Chen Yi, the foreign minister of China had assured Menon in New York in mid-1962 that there would be no reaction to the Indian Army trying to evacuate the Chinese. Zhou told Nehru in 1960 that there would be no war between the countries. Nehru himself had the belief that China would never attack India because “Is it imaginable that a war between India and China will remain confined to those countries? It will be a world war”.

Hence no preparation; no planning. “Defence against whom?” Menon said to have asked famously. So, when the Chinese came attacking, Menon was in New York, Nehru first in UK, then in Africa and later in Sri Lanka.

The Brooks-Bhagat Report pointed out that there was no road link between Srinagar and Leh until November 1961; there were only four air bases; and just one brigade to man the entire 2,000 km border. The army wanted one additional brigade and they were given just one battalion. Shortage of ammunition plagued the army throughout.

Nehru called Sardar Patel ‘naïve’ for asking India to be pragmatic in relations with China. In an interview Neville Maxwell called Nehru ‘foolish’.

History is witness.

Image: India first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

Ram Madhav is member of the national executive of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

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