For more than 50 years, successive governments in India have kept the report confidential and beyond the purview of the public. The reason for the same is no more a state secret since the report was scathing and uncompromising in its criticism of those responsible for plunging the nation into a war which it was not at all prepared for.
Nevile Maxwell who was then based in New Delhi as a correspondent, recently uploaded part of the report from Australia, which expectedly sent the Government of India in frenzy and attempts were made to block the website. But before the Government could act, it is for sure that many have already downloaded the report about a war whose management and outcome has remained one of the biggest blot in the career of Nehru.
Though the report remains silent on the role of Nehru, since the mandate of the commission was to only find follies with operational issues, the report has been extremely critical of some of the protégés of Nehru including Lt Gen BM Kaul who as Chief of Staff as well as the Commander of 4 Corps has been singularly picked up by Brooks for scathing criticism for utter lack of leadership quality and military acumen, sycophancy towards the political leadership and having utter disregard towards military hierarchy and
It was Lt Gen Kaul, a close confidante and a distant relative of Nehru, who, according to Brooks, as per media reports (Read here), had impressed upon Nehru about the idea that an aggressive ‘forward policy' of India would not result in a Chinese retaliation. This apart, it was Kaul who was responsible for setting impossibly stiff objectives for the Army to achieve without taking into notice the issues of logistical problems and lack of equipment.
The Embarrassing Revelations
The Times of India reported ‘ The report gives a few instances of Lt-Gen Kaul's powerful political links in Delhi. On October 17 when he took ill, a special plane was flown from Delhi with a doctor to evacuate him. His immediate boss, the eastern army commander, and the chief of medical services of the command had no clue of the evacuation. The aircraft was sent by defence minister VK Krishna Menon, the report points out. A distant relative of Nehru, Lt-Gen Kaul was also Menon's favourite military general.' This apart, the report has also blamed several others who were responsible for the debacle.
What India Failed to Learn from 1962 War Debacle
The debacle in the 1962 was a result of too much political interference in the matters of military operations as well as political nepotism and favouritism playing a key role in choice of military leaders, Lt Gen Kaul being the prime example of that.
Since that much has changed so far as immunising the Indian Armed Forces from political interference is concerned. Now, tactical decisions of military operations are completely the domain of the Army and the political leadership has no role in it. However, even then, the 1962 defeat and the Henderson Brooks report does have considerable relevance so far as the present scenario in the Indian Armed Forces is concerned especially with respect to the civil military relationship and the manner in which military concerns regarding security issues are often sidelined or ignored by the civilian bureaucracy and political leadership. A bigger or perhaps a more objective concern is whether India is better prepared now to face a China than what it was more than 50 years back.. The answer to the concern is a solid no.
While China and Pakistan Modernised Military at Rapid Pace, India Ignored the Concerns of its Armed Forces
China over the last two decades have made giant strides in leveraging its economic growth to fuel military modernisation which has gone far ahead of that of India's, which kept on floundering opportunities and kept playing politics on issues related to purchase of critical weapon systems. This apart, China has developed massive infrastructure in the Tibetan region in addition to the Qinghai Lhasa Rail network through which it can mobilise 30 divisions or 4,50,000 military personnel in a very short period of time.
The debacle was caused by too much political interference in military operations
In spite of repeated insistence of the Indian Army to create a dedicated mountain strike corps for years, it was only in the recent past that the Government eventually gave sanction to raising of an additional 50,000 soldiers (over and above the two mountain divisions raised for Arunachal ) for a new mountain strike corps to be headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal. Incidentally this would be the first dedicated Mountain strike corps meant for countering China and it would take nothing less than 7 years to make it operationally fully capable. On the issue of India's border infrastructure, the least said the better.
The Eternal Delays of India's political Leadership and Civil Bureaucracy in Acquiring Critical Weapons
However raising a mountain strike corps is one thing, procuring its critical weapon systems to make it effective is quite another. Over the last several years, the Indian Army is grappling with sheer shortage of not just critical weapon systems but also that of ammunitions. In spite of the clear and present danger which is literally engulfing India from both east and west, the bureaucratic-political decision makers have often turned a blind eye to the urgent need for taking decisions for acquisition of key weapon systems.
The present regime has time and again deferred and cancelled decisions on acquisition of artilleries, helicopters, combat aircrafts, missiles and even ammunitions. Today the armed forces are in dire need to buy 3000 artillery units of various calibres; several hundred helicopters and replace a vintage air defence system. It was Gen VK Singh who had first exposed the chinks in the armor which was created out of sheer neglect of the armed forces by the political and bureaucratic decision makers for years now. He had revealed that India's tank regiments have huge deficit of critical ammunition needed to fight a war and that the air defence systems were 97% obsolete (Read here). Even though after the expose by Gen Singh, the Government did act with some alacrity to order a huge number of Invar missiles for T-90 tanks, Konkur anti-tank missiles and also ordered a large number of Akash Missiles, the urgency soon fizzled out. Many other critical acquisitions have been pending for years. What happened with respect to the VK Singh saga thereafter was evident enough that government of the day prefer those who remain politically correct instead of those who take strong stands.
The situation as it was in the run up to the 1962 war was no different than this. Further, series of accidents in Indian Navy also pointed towards a faulty policy and bureaucratic lethargy in acquiring timely replacement of critical spare parts and sub components.
The Pigeon Syndrome and the Peanuts India Spend on Defence Preparedness
Fact of the matter is that there is no much difference between the scenario that was there during the run up to the Indo-China War and the way it is now. Fact is that there is today a political leadership which is not willing to accept the reality of the need of modernisation of the armed forces and neither it wants the Generals to speak the truth. Fact of the matter is that much like it was in 1962, Government of the day has been attempting rather recklessly to compensate much of its wasteful expenditures elsewhere by blindly cutting down on military expenditures. As proportion to GDP, ideally for a country like India, its military expenditure should be nothing less than 3% of GDP. Yet it is barely 1.74 % now and almost close to 1.5% of GDP that was the legacy of the Nehruvian era.
The threat perception though has compounded manifold and yet India's politico-bureaucratic class continue with their pigeon syndrome. Compared to India, many of the other major nations spend nothing less than 4% of their GDP on defence. It is not to say that no modernisation is taking place of Indian Armed Forces but the sloth pace at which it happens compares poorly with the giant strides being made by both China and its collaborator against India. i.e. Pakistan.
Disregard For the Armed Forces- The Legacy Continues
In the hindsight, Nehru's dislike for Army, his paranoia about a military coup, keeping at arm's length the military, the dubious role of his protégé VK Krishna Menon as the Defence Minister during the 1962 War and its mismanagement, the lack of leadership capability of Lt Gen BM Kaul, another political appointee all contributed to the defeat and not even providing them the bare minimum needed to defend the nation. The same legacy to a great extent continues till date. The Army is still kept at arm's length and the armed forces are not involved in the nation's strategic security and foreign policy planning.
The Civil bureaucracy's utter lack of understanding of strategic affairs, their presumption that smiling handshakes with their counterparts in cozy offices would solve all problems and daydreams about ‘all is well in the borders' has contributed to a major gap in India's threats and preparedness. It continues to presume strategic issues at its domain and tend to push aside advises of the military, unlike in US where the armed forces play a vital role in the nation's strategic and national security planning.
In spite of a semblance of peace in the borders, the Chinese intrusions into the Indian side have increased with enormous frequency and it has continued unabatedly to arm Pakistan to the teeth. Its ‘String of Pearls' policy of surrounding India is no more a secret. But the delusions of India's policy makers about China continue. If there is a repeat of the 1962 tomorrow again, India's political leadership would be caught as off guard as it was in 1962.
The Armed Forces would invariably be asked to go and defend the motherland which surely they would with their blood and sweat. Yet beyond the blood and sweat, one also requires arms and ammunitions to fight it out. And sadly no one would be there to indict and hold accountable all those who played with India's security preparedness for years by not procuring vital weapons with time in hand. In between 1962 and 2014, perhaps only sand dunes of time have passed by. India's civilian bureaucracy and political leadership's understanding of military affairs still seem to be caught in a time warp and not willing to move ahead to embrace the reality.