It wasn't China, but Nehru who declared 1962 war: Australian journalist Neville Maxwell
Two weeks ago, the Australian journalist Neville Maxwell finally made part of the Henderson Brooks report public, by putting it up on his blog. The report was an internal Indian Army enquiry into its rout in the 1962 war with China — Maxwell was the New Delhi correspondent for The Times, London, at the time — but in the 51 years since the report was written up by Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Brig PS Bhagat, successive Indian governments have refused to make it public. Only two copies of the report were thought to be in existence, although there was never any doubt that Maxwell had had access to the report for his 1970 book India's China War quoted extensively from it. In his first interview to the Indian media since he made the report public, the now 88-year-old Maxwell tells Parakram Rautela that he had been trying to make the report public for years but that nobody would publish it. He adds that he was only able to get hold of Volume I of the report, minus 45 pages, and that he never laid eyes on Volume II. And of course he still blames Nehru for the war, not the Chinese. Excerpts:
Q: You suggest India's official account of the cause of the 1962 border war is false. What, in your view, is the truth?
NM: By September 1962 the Indian "forward policy" of trying to force the Chinese out of territory India claimed had built up great tension in the Western (Ladakh) sector of the border, with the Chinese army just blocking it. Then the Nehru government applied the forward policy to the McMahon Line eastern sector and when the Chinese blocked that too India in effect declared war with Nehru's announcement on October 11 that the Army had been ordered to "free our territory", which meant to attack the Chinese and drive them back. As General Niranjan Prasad, commander of 4 Division, wrote later: "We at the front knew that since Nehru had said he was going to attack, the Chinese were certainly not going to wait to be attacked" — and of course they didn't. That's how the war began. The Chinese attack was both reactive, in that General Kaul had begun the Indian assault on October 10, and pre-emptive because after that failure the Indian drive had been suspended to build up strength for a resumed attack.
Q: What in your opinion were the policies, on both sides, that brought about the basic quarrel over the border?
NM: As far as the McMahon Line was concerned India inherited the dispute with China, which the British had created in the mid-1930s by seizing the Tibetan territory they re-named NEFA. The PRC government was prepared to accept that border alignment but insisted that it be re-negotiated, that is put through the usual diplomatic process, to wipe out its imperialist origins. Nehru refused, using London's false claim that the Simla Conference had already legitimised the McMahon Line to back up that refusal — that was his Himalayan blunder. Then in 1954 he compounded that mistake by laying cartographic claim to a swathe of territory in the north-west, the Aksai Chin, a claim which was beyond anything the British had ever claimed and on an area which Chinese governments had treated as their own for at least a hundred years. To make matters worse, he ruled that there should be no negotiation over that claim either! So Indian policy had created a border dispute and also ruled out the only way it could peacefully be settled, through diplomatic negotiation.
Q: Whatever the truth about the origins of the war, it's the effect on India-China relations and the deadlock since then that is important now... And there was the worry that bringing up all the bitterness of that bloody conflict may only make matters worse?
NM: Certainly not, the opposite is true I think. If the Henderson Brooks Report is read closely in India (and it's not easy reading!) people will see that political favouritism put the Army under incompetent leadership which blindly followed the Nehru government's provocative policy. It shows that all the way, from formulation to implementation of the Forward Policy, that policy was resisted by the pucca soldiers because they saw it must end in a conflict India could only lose, but the orders came from the top and in the end had to be obeyed... the authors of the report ruefully quote the poem, "theirs not to reason why... but to do or die".
Q: What made you publish the report now, and why were you selective about what you published?
NM: There's a significant gap in what I published, about 45 pages, otherwise I published all I have, which is Volume One of the Report's two volumes. The gap is there only because the time I had to copy it was limited, and when I saw I wouldn't have time to copy it all I chose to leave out a chunk in the middle rather than the end of it. As for the timing, I'd been trying to make it public for years but thought if I did it myself there'd just be attacks on me rather than concentration on the Report's contents, and to some extent that what's happening now. So a couple of years ago I made the text available to several major Indian papers on condition they didn't disclose their source, but none of them would publish it, so by this time I had to conclude that if I didn't do it myself it might never see the light of day. Now it's done without any harm whatever to national security let's hope the Indian government, this one or the next, will quickly publish both volumes of the Henderson Brooks Report without any gaps or editing.
Q: All right, but don't you see you may have made matters worse by arousing all this heated discussion just before a general election?
NM: Honestly, the elections never crossed my mind as bearing on my decision, I don't follow Indian politics closely nowadays. And as for making matters worse, absolutely not, I see the opposite as being true. The tragic irony in all this is that settlement would be easy and the way to settlement has always been open! All that is required is that the Indian government, any Indian government, reverses the Nehru refusal to negotiate. And it's possible that under the guise of just "talking", a secret process of negotiation has in fact been going on and there are signs that it may have reached agreement on basics. If so the Indian public is more likely to welcome that outcome because the myth of "Chinese aggression" has been exposed again, as the Henderson Brooks report does. I say "again" because all this, the historical and diplomatic background and what the Henderson Brooks report tells about the debacle, was exposed long ago in my 1970 book India's China War, and a revised edition of that has just come out in Delhi.