Indian politicians and media analysts seem to believe that the history of the Sino-Indian dispute began after the 1962 conflict. They seem to exhibit collective amnesia about what transpired before that conflict. That is why there is so much excitement about the release of the Henderson Brooks Report by former London Times correspondent in India, Mr. Neville Maxwell, currently based in Australia. Obviously Defence Ministry sources made available the copy of the report either directly or indirectly to Mr. Maxwell.
Five decades after the event Mr. Maxwell on the eve of India’s general election has thought it fit to release the report on his blog. His explanation for the timing of the release is not wholly convincing. It is as coincidental as the CBI initiating a probe into the audio recordings of the Ishrat Jahan case on the eve of 2014 polling. The excitement created in the Indian media and among opposition parties by the report’s release is mystifying. The government’s cover up of that event is old hat. The report reveals nothing new of substantive value. Media channels assert that the report blames Nehru for the debacle. Good God! Does it need the Henderson Brooks Report to tell us that? The only value of the report is details of army deployments which would interest military analysts. And also the fact that the report authenticates the views long held of the debacle by certain critics.
After procuring the report Mr. Maxwell wrote a book on the India-China war. He blamed India as the aggressor and exonerated the Chinese. Mr. Maxwell and his fans who echo his view miss the woods for the trees. Mr. Maxwell took a narrow and myopic view of events to conclude that India was to blame for hostilities. Nehru was certainly to blame for the debacle but not for the hostilities. Nehru’s errors cannot absolve China of its perfidy. Quite possibly Mr. Maxwell was persuaded to his view from the following passage in the introduction of the Henderson Brooks Report:
“The Chinese claim, as then known, was the 1954 Line. It will be seen that, except perhaps for Demchok, there was no difference between the line actually held by us and the Chinese claim.”
The basic cause of the conflict was the trust deficit created between New Delhi and Beijing. And that trust deficit did not initiate from the disputed border but from China’s brazen annexation of Tibet which fact Mr. Maxwell and his fans conveniently overlook. India after all had only a border with Tibet, not with China.
The People’s Liberation Army attacked Tibet in early October 1950. It defeated the Tibetan army by 19 October. But instead of completing the military campaign, the Chinese sought a negotiated agreement with Tibetan representatives. The Dalai Lama was just a boy then. The Tibetan representatives were coerced into signing an agreement without being allowed to confer with the Tibetan government in Lhasa. They were made to use makeshift seals specifically made for the agreement. The Dalai Lama never accepted the agreement. Seeing the subsequent conduct of Beijing as it strengthened its stranglehold on Tibet, the Dalai Lama met Nehru in 1956 seeking permission for possible future asylum. Nehru quoted the 1954 Panchsheel agreement between India and China and demurred. As if the Chinese annexation of Tibet had not already violated that agreement! In 1959 the Chinese army wholly annexed Tibet and the Dalai Lama fled to India with his followers to settle in Dharamsala.
The International Commission of Jurists after studying all the historical records concluded that from 1913 to 1950 Tibet had all the attributes of a sovereign independent nation. The Tibetan government controlled its own domestic and foreign affairs without any outside authority. Tibet also had officially recorded foreign relations with several foreign governments. Not surprisingly, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolutions urging respect for the rights of Tibetans in 1959, 1961 and 1965. The 1961 resolution endorsed the right of self-determination for the Tibetan people.
Nehru was an impractical idealist and a novice in the exercise of realpolitik. He had no understanding of military affairs. His diplomatic errors were compounded by his handling of defence matters. The immediate provocation for the armed conflict with China was his disastrous Forward Post policy. It consisted of establishing pill boxes in disputed territory without providing any logistical support. As if the border dispute was a chess match based on empty moves bereft of military relevance. Already the armed forces had been ruined by the harebrained policy at that stage and in those circumstances to abjure importing crucially needed arms by pursuing self reliance for defence equipment. Also, Nehru’s reliance on unfit army Generals who were favourites of Defence Minister Krishna Menon on whom Nehru reposed total faith was the clincher. Against the advice of the Army Intelligence advice Nehru approved the Forward Post policy.
Section 2 (1) of the Henderson Brooks Report states with certain passages emphasized in capitals:
“The background to the Government’s decision in the “Forward Policy” is not known. … A meeting however was held in the Prime Minister’s office on November 2, 1961 and was attended by among others the Defence Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Chief of Army Staff and the Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB). The DIB was of the opinion that “the Chinese would not react to our establishing our posts and that they were NOT LIKELY TO USE FORCE AGAINST ANY OF OUR POSTS EVEN IF THEY WERE IN A POSITION TO DO SO… This was contrary to the military intelligence appreciation, as brought out in the CONCLUSION of Army Headquarters Intelligence Review – China-Tibet, 1959-1960 (Annexure 9), which clearly indicated that the Chinese would resist by force any attempt to take back territory held by them.”
In the light of all this, is not the reaction to the leakage of the Henderson Brooks Report disproportionate? The government of course deserves castigation for keeping the report under wraps. But are media analysts and opposition politicians deserving any less criticism for ignoring that senior Indian journalists and some opposition leaders had for years earlier anticipated all the criticism against the government leveled in the report? Or is it only foreign opinion which excites the Indian elite?
Senior journalists S. Mulgaokar, Frank Moraes and Prem Bhatia made all the criticism contained in the report for several years earlier. The Henderson Brooks report does not mention Nehru by name. Neither did the senior journalists and opposition leaders. They mostly targeted Krishna Menon.
For that generation and for the Indian people at large Nehru was shown deference reserved for God. Only this writer, after a two year stint in London, being young and brash, dared to say that the Emperor wore no clothes. More than two years before the 1962 Sino-Indian war he published an article demanding Nehru’s resignation, failing which he predicted a debacle against China. He based his conclusion simply on all the arguments and analysis advanced by the named senior journalists and by opposition leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kripalani. Nath Pai, Mahavir Tyagi and others. The opinion making segment of the Indian elite is too much a slave of foreign thought and direction to credit home grown analysts with due credit. As yet there is no sign of the Indian elite with independent critical faculty emerging.