I was the correspondent of The Times, published from London, when Neville Maxwell was its South Asia correspondent. He operated from New Delhi and we often discussed matters concerning India and other countries, particularly China.
That he was anti-India would be an understatement. His hatred towards the country was patent in his dispatches. For example, he wrote after second general election in 1957 that it was a the last polls of the country because democracy was not suited to India’s genius.
I have not seen any of his writings to admit that his reading was incorrect. He reminded me at times of British die hearts who exploited India to make their country rich and indulged in unspeakable atrocities to keep us a colony. Both Maxwell and I often compared India’s development with China’s. Otherwise progressing democracy, he praised China’s authoritarian regime. He honestly believed that it was India which attacked China and therefore titled his book as India’s war on China.
The utility of the book was the reproduction of certain portions of reports by Henderson Brooks, appointed by the government to probe into the reasons for India’s debacle in the 1962 war against China. He reportedly blamed New Delhi, particularly Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, for “shoving” India into a war against China when the former had not shoes for the soldiers who were moved from Kashmir to face the Chinese.
I was then the press secretary to Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and knew his unhappiness over building up China’s Premier Chou En-Lai by Nehru. The latter introduced him to the world figures and took him to Bandung at the first non-alignment conference. That Nehru was never the same after the defeat and died early because he felt personally betrayed. Although Sardar Patel had warned him through a letter not to trust China which would one day attack India, Nehru was obsessed by a Socialist country which he, to his grief, could not transform India into that mould.
Maxwell has released part of the report by Henderson Brooks. I am inclined to believe that he has done so to give some mileage to the anti-Congress forces. That Nehru did not prepare the country and misjudged the Chinese designs is an open secret. I have had a long interview with General P.N. Thapar, the then chief of the army staff. He had given in writing that India would face defeat if there was a war between India and China. Thapar submitted a long note for the procurement of weapons and rising up more troops. Nehru told him that the note was never put up to him.
New Delhi went into the disputed areas to establish its claim. I remember the former Home Secretary, B.N. Jha, telling me that it was “a bright idea” of B.N. Malik, the Director of Intelligence, to establish police posts “wherever we could,” even behind the “Chinese lines”, so as to “register our claim” on the territory. “But,” then he said, “Malik does not realize that these isolated posts with no support from the back will fall like ninepins as soon as the Chinese push forward. We are unnecessarily exposing the policemen to death. Frankly, this is the job of the army, but since they have refused to man the posts until full logistic support is provided, we have placed the policemen.”
The posts run in a zigzag line; 41 of them were established, a few policemen here and a few of them there, sometimes like islands in the multitude of Chinese predators. The massive Chinese attack and our puny efforts to cope with it were now plain for all to see. The government decided to play down the news of reverses which were pouring in endlessly. It was treating it like the September 8 intrusion in NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency) which was officially described as the “appearance of some Chinese forces in the vicinity of one of our posts.”
I remember the first time I heard of the Sino-Indian border dispute was in the Union Home Ministry in early 1957. I was complaining to a senior official about the East Pakistan border bristling with dangers. He feigned ignorance. But his one remark, even though cryptic, was significant. He said: “Why Pakistan alone? You will have trouble with China very soon.” He did not elucidate but in reply to my insistent queries he did add that there were vague reports of China building a road through Sinkiang. The Ministry of External Affairs had been informed of the reports many times.
I still cannot understand why the government is keeping the Brooks’ report as classified. The defence ministry’s reasoning that the divulgence of the report would make public certain “tactics” which are still relevant. The tactics and even weapons employed in 1962 have no relevance today. Former chief of army staff General V.P. Malik has said that the 1962 operation is not relevant today. He has asked for the publication of the report. But the Congress-led government is under the wrong perception that Nehru’s image would be damaged and so would be that of the ruling party. Now that the excerpts of the report are already on the Internet, the government sounds churlish and undemocratic when it insists on keeping the report secret. New Delhi is happy to lock the gate after the animals have bolted.
I vainly tried to get the report pubic. First, I approached the Defence Ministry which said no. Ultimately, I tried to seek the report through RTI (Right to Information). The matter went up to the top. But it rejected my plea. I have appealed to the High Court which is sitting on the matter. After many years a brief reference came early last year when the judge remarked: “So you want all country’s secret to be made public?” I wish there had been a decision on that. Unfortunately, there is none. The matter rests there and the government doggedly sticks to its archaic stand that the public has no right to know even after 52 years. EOM