Remembering & Reviewing 1962 Indo - China War After 60 Yrs - Debate Part 3

We should stop war mongering. We need to extend a sincere honourable plan for disengagement with the Chinese. Draw MOUs where war is not an option and peaceful co-existence is. We should let the MEA do it’s job while we maintain the sanctity of our borders.

Remembering & Reviewing 1962 Indo - China War After 60 Yrs - Debate Part 3

Brig. Sarvesh Dangwal (Retd)

When Lt  Gen Prem Bhagat, VC, who was a member of the Commission (as a Brigadier ) and under Lt Gen Henderson Brooks , asked of Maj Gen Monty Palit (then DGMO in the rank of a Brigadier) for the minutes and notings  on the discussions held and decisions taken  by the PM, Def Minister, IB Chief and Senior Military Leadership; he was told very categorically that the Commission was not mandated to sit on judgement over the PM and Defence Minister and hence was not given any access to these. The failure on the part of the  Political and Military leadership has been more than adequately brought out in the writings of JPD, Monty Palit and Maxwell , etc ., and therefore it is unlikely that there is anything of much significance which lies cloistered in the HB Report and which is not known. The  intransigence on the part of the Governments since,  to de-classify the Report is a faux pretension in the name of National Security Confidentiality. All is known and there is nothing more to learn, the Report notwithstanding.

Brig. BL Poonia (Retd)

The most pertinent and sensitive point that is mentioned in the Henderson Brooks Report is that India had ventured into the Chinese territory while executing the 'Forward Policy', which led China to retaliate. And it is this part of the story which the nation is not ready to believe. In fact, majority of the Defence personnel are also not ready to believe it. But once the official version of the same is made public, all the academic discussions on the subject matter will cease to take place.

But the tragedy is that the declassification of such a sensitive matter would remove India from the moral high ground in the eyes of the world, on which she claims to be sitting during the 1962 debacle. And this precisely is the reason for not declassifying the same even after six decades, when it should ideally have been done after three decades.

The tragedy is that the Report will reveal that it in 1962, it was India and not China who was the aggressor. We should not lose sight of this while highlighting the limited scope of the inquiry. This fact could not have been excluded from the Report since the Army Commanders, the Corps Commanders, the Division Commanders and the Brigade Commanders had given their statements and reasons for venturing into the Chinese territory. They had explained, as to who ordered them to cross the established international borders, which had not yet been ratified. In fact when the Indian Army questioned the wisdom of crossing the McMahon Line, they were told to ignore the McMahon Line, since those were the orders from the highest authority. The same was the case in the Ladakh Sector when the Army was ordered to establish posts in the Chip Chap Valley, even behind the Chinese posts, even against the active objections of Lt Gen Daulat Singh, Army Commander Western Command. Again the Army was told that these were the orders from the highest authority. After the war it was revealed that the highest authority was none other than VK Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister.

Unfortunately, till the Henderson Brooks Report is declassified, even majority of the Army officers are not ready to accept that India was the aggressor through its Forward Policy, in 1962. This is what is preventing the govt from declassifying the Report, the same govt which when in opposition used to invariably demand the same during each Parliament session.

In fact, what is hidden in the Henderson Brooks Report is the reputation of India.

Col. Rajinder Singh Kushwaha (Retd)

I do not agree with Brig Poonia’s conclusion that India had started the 1962 war . “Forward Posturing” ordered by Nehru in Sept/ Oct 1962 , after Galwan incident of July 1962, was to ensure the sanctity of India’s border with Tibet, as a deduced legacy from British India.

This is what China had objected to and launched “ Teach a lesson to Nehru” for his audacity to Challenge Mao’s global image. May be though, Mao Ze Dong was jealous of Nehru’s rising clout in the international affairs, after 1954 .

I do not think that Brig Poonia was taking into account the prelude to Oct 1962 war. He coolly over looks Chinese action in Galwan river valley of 06 July 1962 and subsequent massacre of the Coy of 5 JAT who tried to link up with Gorkha Coy in the Galwan valley.

He also forgets Mao Ze Dong’s statement to Henry Kissinger about “ Teaching a Lesson to Nehru”.

India’s occupation of Mc Mohan ridge line was subsequent to China’s Galwan valley action. The line was demarcated by British India at Shimla in 1914, with the reps of Independent Tibet Govt — though not ratified by Britain and Tibet Govt .

However, Mc Mohan line as a border with Tibet was a legacy of British India to Nehru’s Independent India. This is a known fact.

China’s historical claims over Tibet due to its occupation by Qing Dynasty in 17th Century  was a faulty claim, though unfortunately accepted by Nehru’s India.

Historically speaking, in the same vein, India can make claims over Xin Jiang autonomous region because in the ancient times it was Part of India as UTTAR KURU region — which was a tributary state of Pandava’s of Mahabharata. Therefore Chinese claims over Tibet are as faulty as Indian claims over Xinjjang.

In fact, Nehru’s confusion over Chinese claims over Tibet and then providing asylum to Dalai Lama was due to his moralistic bug and lack of historical perspective in early 1950s. When he realised his mistake in around 1955, he tried to rectify it by  “ Forward posture” along Mc Mohan line — the acknowledged border with Tibet.

Please note, it was this realisation of Nehru that he rejected Chou En Lai’s offer of bartering Aksai Chin with NEFA . He had realised that Shimla Agreement with Tibet included Aksai Chin and NEFA. (India had occupied NEFA in Feb 1951 — through expedition force of Assam Rifles , led by Maj Bob Khating).

What is shocking is the fact that having tried to rectify his mistake, Nehru did not do any thing to modernise and upgrade his army. There could be two reasons :—
a) He was misled that China would not respond to his forward posture along Mc Mohan line. Neville Maxwell says that five men were responsible for this belief. They were :—

1.VK KrishnaMenon ,Def Minister

2.MJ Desai , Foreign Secretary

3. BN Mullick, IB Chief

4.Lt Gen BM Kaul , Corps Cdr

5.Brig DK Palit, DMO

Surprisingly, Army Chief PN Thapar had raised some queries but was overruled by Krishna Menon.

b) He was over confident of his army’s performance during 2nd world war. It was a romantic nostalgia of army’s capabilities.

All said and done “Forward Posture” was not to invade Tibet / China but to safeguard legitimize claims of Border with Tibet as unofficially handed over by Colonial masters. But he was late by 5-8 years in doing so. Primarily his moral and ethical bug of NON- VIOLENCE stance had pulled wool over his eyes in 1950 when he accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. But by 1954 , after Bandung Conference , had become practically wiser on International affairs and he had realised his grave error . It was not invading China but to prevent China’s repetition of Galwan action of July 1962.

As regards HB's mandate on Political evaluation of 1962 war - I have already said that his terms of reference did not allow him. His mandate was limited to military failure which is unwarranted as if to order soldiers to fight enemy with hands tied at the back.

Basic thing is that Indian leadership, both political and military, was lacking practical wisdom in international affairs. Generals were too weak to stand up to the towering image of political leadership. They could not resist “forward posturing” without proper upgradation of armed forces. Generals were “Sifarashi”

What is more important that HB commission was an in-house investigation with no scope to view political role. This is why, Maj Gen DK Palit had given a shut up call to Brig PS Bhagat.

As I know, it is said that HB report had only one copy and it no more exists with the Govt. It is a fallacy that its disclosure would hurt India’s moral reputation. Let us know one thing very clearly, there was NO MORALISTIC STAND in international conduct. Is India’s refusal to toe West line on Ukraine crisis, a moralistic stand? No! It is based on Indian interests.

Therefore the fact is that HB Report is non-existing and hence can not be released.

It is not understood as to what reputation it would hurt, some 60 years after the incident. In fact its release will only correct some historical misconceptions which are victim of baseless speculations, such as claim that India had started the war. Fact is HB report has NO relevance in India of 2022! It is just speculation that HB report contends India initiated war. No one alive has seen HB report till date. Only copy has gone missing.

Brig. Sarvesh Dangwal (Retd)

Brig Poonia makes a very pertinent point. Because, that (India being the aggressor) seems to be the only plausible reason why it remains classified still. However, Colonel Rajender Khushwa contests this pronouncement and  states the reasons thereof, in a very cogent, factual and plausible manner. Notwithstanding, the contretemps on the subject there is also an aspect which needs to be considered, in arriving at a holistic perception of the reasons. Claude Arpi has written that:-

The danger is the debate that would follow about the dark side of Nehru’s Foreign Policy towards China and some of the legacies left by him: disdain for military; ignoring military advice; military kept out of strategic security considerations; disorganized higher defence set up; belief that political autocracy supported by bureaucracy is enough to run the country; utopian ideas of peace discounting ground realities – in plain terms no strategic sense whatsoever.
It is  the strategic prognostication of experts that CPC and PLA has kept us tied down with enhanced spending and costs on ground so as to disrupt and  unsettle our development in the sea and sub sea, where it is most vulnerable.    70 % of energy security is ensured by keeping the sea lanes free for shipping. Our sea presence is poor and the PLN is averse to change in this matrix.

Map m: The Ardagh–Johnson line marked in red as the "traditional boundary" of the state of Jammu and Kashmir

Brig. BL Poonia (Retd)

If our execution of 'Forward Policy' was not an act of capturing the Chinese territory, both in Aksai Chin and across the McMahon Line, can any one quote the authority under which India's claim over Aksai Chin and Thagla Ridge in NEFA was justified in any manner?

Had any of the Indian rulers ever captured these territories in the history of India, or had these been ever acquired by India through any Treaty ? If not, wasn't venturing into Aksai Chin through the 'Forward Policy' by establishing 40 military posts in Chip Chap Valley of China a violation of trust after the 'Apr 1960  Delhi Conference' between Pandit Nehru and Chou En-lie? Moreover, what was the basis of India's claim over these territories ? Similarly, how was the establishment of 'Dhola Post' by Assam Rifles in Jun 1962 across the McMahon Line, and an attempt to capture Thagla Ridge by the Indian Army, five kms across the McMahon Line, on 10 Oct 1962 justified ?

Just because the borders have not been ratified through any treaty so far, does one country reserve the right to acquire the territory held by another country by use of force ? Would China be justified if she resorts to a similar act? If not, how was India justified ? In fact it was a betrayal of trust on the part of India.

All these incidents have been mentioned in the book 'India's China War' by Neville Maxwell. And the 'Dhola Post' and the 'Thagla Ridge' incidents have been mentioned in the book 'Himalayan Blunder' by Brig John Dalvi too.

In addition, in the book "Indo-China Boundary Problem - 1846-1947 : History and Diplomacy" by AG Nooarani, he has explained how India had revised her official maps in 1954. Nehru's directive on 01 Jul 1054 was apparently in pursuance of a decision taken on 24 March 1953 to formulate a new line for the boundary.

The author writes, "It was a fateful decision. Old maps were burnt. One former Foreign Secretary told the writer how, as a junior officer, he himself was obliged to participate in the fatous exercise". It is speculated that the official was Mr Ram Sathe, India's last Consel General in Xinjiang and later Ambassador to China. And interestingly, this book, which was dedicated to the memory of Mr Ram Sathe, was released on 16 Dec 2010 at the residence of Hamid Ansari, the then Vice President of India, and he being a Congressman cannot be blamed for denigrating the image of Pandit Nehru.

The book mentions that new maps were printed showing the northern and north-eastern frontiers without any reference to historical records. Nehru also wanted that these maps to be sent to embassies abroad and introduced to the general public, and be used in schools and colleges. That is why all our Atlases show the boundaries accordingly; ie Aksai Chin and Thagla Ridge in India. Now these boundaries have got so deeply imprinted in our minds, generation after generation, that any boundary alignment to contrary, the mind simply doesn't accept.

Noorani states, "As late as 1950, Indian maps showed the boundary as "undefined". A century old problem was neglected, by a conscious decision, in 1954. And when in Apr 1960, the prospects of settlement were bright, the dispute was sought to be resolved by confrontation. The conclusion is hard to resist that there was a total disconnect between the facts of history and India's policy on boundary problem. Each proposition listed in 'Chapter XI of the 1842 Treaty' : The 'Undefined Boundary', and the 'Karakoram Boundary' were flouted, and worst of all, an impermissible recourse to unilateral change of frontiers was adopted."

There was nothing inevitable about this impasse. Chau En-lie was all too ready to accept a solution during his Delhi visit in Apr 1960. But a divided Cabinet, an irresponsible Opposition, an uninformed Press and a restive Parliament, all fed on bad history, held Nehru hostage. The USA helped India to ruin her reputation, in an attempt to cut the Communist China to size. Having failed to achieve her aim, in 1965 the USA took a U-turn and helped Pakistan against India in 1965 war, only to sell her US Patton tanks, and a few other weapons and aircrafts.

Since 1954 to 2014, mostly the Congress remained in power, except some 'Khichdi Sarkars' sprinkled in between, who had no interest whatsoever, in the boundary problem with China, hence the effect of Nehru's propaganda continued to overshadow the truth. And now, after a few generations, we find it difficult to digest that China was right and India was wrong. Nor can any government risk ruining India's reputation  by declassifying the Henderson Brooks Report, since all govts have been projecting China as the aggressor.

Even if one is momentarily convinced when confronted with historical facts, that in 1962, it was India and not China who was the aggressor, the next immediate feeling is, "How can this Communist country with expansionist designs be right and my own country, India be wrong ? That is not possible." Psychologically, it's beyond acceptance.

So in the final analysis, let China be the villain.

Col. Rajinder Kushwaha (Retd)

The Ardagh–Johnson Line is one of three boundary lines considered by the British Indian government, the other two being the Macartney–Mc Mohan Line and a line along the Karakoram range. The British preference among the three choices varied over time based on the perception of their strategic interests in India. The Ardagh–Johnson Line represented the "forward school" that wanted to advance the boundary as forward as possible as a defence against the growing Russian empire. Following the Chinese reluctance to acquiesce to the more conservative Macartney–Mc Mohan Line, the British eventually reverted to the forward line in the Aksai Chin area, which was then inherited by the independent Republic of India.

It is a grave mistake to say that Tibet was Chinese territory in 1947 when India became free . China was ruled by Chiang Kai sheik who moved to Taiwan only in 1949 after Communist take over.

Therefore in 1947, India had inherited the borders with Tibet as agreed upon by Britain and Kashgar Governor in 1899.  Saidullah Fort ( Xaidulla) and Aksai Chin were considered as territories within British India .

China entered Tibet only in 1950. Unfortunately , Nehru supported Chinese occupation of Tibet . He not only supported China but also provided Logistic help to China to PLA troops . Aksai Chin was not part of Tibet . Xaidulla Fort was part of J& K state as highlighted by 1865 Johnson line .

I have stated time and again that NEHRU had realised his folly in 1954-55 when he was informed of Construction of G219 ( Western Highway) by China from Kashghar . It passed through Aksai Chin — it was then that it dawned upon Indian leaders the blunder they had made . This led to “ Forward Policy” but WITHOUT PREPARATIONS .

I am surprised that FORWARD POSTURING is called as Indian aggression . It is not so in HB Report . It blames Nehru and others for FORWARD POSTURING WITHOUT PROPER PREPARATION . To say the least, the territory in question into which  Forward posturing was done , was NOT Chinese territory but disputed land , which India had claimed as part of Shimla Agreement of 1914.

I reiterate that NO such claims are there  in HB Report of  India initiating war . Even Neville Maxwell does not talk about such an allegation. He only blames India for “ forward posturing” without preparation, under an illusion that China would not respond.

Anyway, Brig. Poonia should show relevant portion of HB Report which says that it was India who had started the war.

Brig. Pradeep Sharma (Retd)

History and the fog surrounding it not with standing, we are in no position to negotiate treaties which favour our claims / demands. Of all the points made Claude Arpi seems to offer a better insight to the reason why we are stuck. Military thinkers will continue to argue 'for' and 'against' Nehruvian policies while the bureaucrats will enjoy doing what they like most; suppressing the armed forces in a bid to establish their supremacy.

Cdr. Mukund Yeolekar (Retd)

It is apparent that across the political spectrum the HB Report is anathema to the political leadership since it brings out the ignorance, inexperience and inept handling of the military operation of 1962. Perhaps there is a fear that nation would be toppled from its moral highground if details are revealed.

Today we are much better economically, militarily and technologically. If we fail to reveal and realise our mistakes of the past we will never improve and might repeat the past follies. The appreciation by the military is of paramount importance in the present strategic situation and it would be disastrous if ignored. There is a dire need to have a non-partisan and honest review now, since the debacle was 60 years ago. A witchhunt would serve no purpose.

The political leaders, NSA, Military Commanders and bureaucrats should sit together and discuss threadbare the HBR. We will surely learn and become proactive instead of being reactive.

A Universal truth: There is nothing absolutely right or wrong in international politics. If you lose you were wrong. If you win you were right.
We have to win by hook or crook. A successful military Commander does not wait for the enemy to come to him.

The Way Forward By Neil John

Even in Galwan, some people believe that we were the ones that instigated  the Chinese by going and occupying positions that were for generations neutral territory. I don’t know what’s the truth and I wouldn’t want to comment on that. But if we did, Someone needs to be held accountable. On whose orders? Why? What did it achieve tactically, operationally or strategically, or what did it aim to achieve that would change the dynamics of border management with China. We lost here both the operational control and the narrative.

We need to get our act right. We don’t have the capabilities as of now. We need to build them. I keep harping to military leadership that war is not only a military domain. It is a nation at war. It’s the decision of a government depending upon the need, the economics, the endurance, the sustainability, the huge scale of destruction in men and material and international connotations, there has to be absolute non negotiable reasons to go to war.

Some veterans profess to me today that you will see war with the Chinese in your time. I am sorry but I don’t want to, I don’t want war with the Chinese. War here is not my option. You have retired and shouldn't fire your guns from my/ our shoulders.

With the Chinese, it’s war avoidance. It’s maintaining the equilibrium by building capacities. What will a war get us? What will it get the Chinese except make the PLA more powerful, teach India a lesson, etc. But it will still put them back in their development process by years. They can’t afford that, cause they don’t even see us as an enemy. By just some border actions and some grey zone action they made us reorient. We have a lot to lose. We need to build deterrence. We need to be ready at all times and there’s no doubt on that. Never trust a Chinese, but having said that, we need to be mature in both border management and posting of leadership in these areas who understand the dynamics and not the ones which see skirmishes as an option.

Will war with the Chinese be fought on the LAC. No, war will be in all dimensions, land, air and sea.

Economically it’s a disaster. After Covid and the recession, markets are just catching up. It’s that ‘do waqt ki roti’  that will call the shots.

We should stop war mongering. We need to extend a sincere honourable plan for disengagement with the Chinese. Draw MOUs where war is not an option and peaceful co-existence is. We should let the MEA do it’s job while we maintain the sanctity of our borders.

Our infantry soldier will fight gallantly. But for how long? Every CAB of theirs will be met with equal opposition if not more, but I am suspect in the air and in the sea. Just because of his sheer numbers and the most potent air defence systems. Technologically by ac we might just beat them by an inch, but will that count, it’s the air defence that bothers us more. In the sea because we can’t prempt, therefore we would be more reactive, where he would bring the battle to the Bay of Bengal or the Indian Ocean region through submarine warfare and more.

I don’t want to picture an Armageddon, cause we as the Indian military have come a long way. But we still have miles to go. So until then...ITS WAR AVOIDANCE & PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE.

(Views expressed are the respondent's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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Henderson Brooks Report & 1962 Himalayan Blunder
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Henderson Brooks Report & 1962 Himalayan Blunder

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Military Administrative Tribunal (MAT)

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