“What has been made public is Part-I of the report? It has been reported in the media that pages 112 to 167 are still not known. Is it because these pages contain some material which can be embarrassing to those in power in 1962? The first 111 pages having been made public, it is now necessary that the balance pages also be made public rather than allow public opinion be influenced by unauthentic sources.”
The above paragraph is taken from Union Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s blog post The Henderson Brooks Report which he authored on 19 March 2014 as the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. The story, however is Jaitley’s blog post now cease to exist on his website arunjaitley.com as reported by DNA.
In March this year Australian journalist Neville Maxwell had sent shock waves particularly in the Congress camp when he chose to release the Henderson Brooks report partially just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
A Firstpost story by G Pramod Kumar on 19 March said: “It’s been always known that Maxwell had access to the report, because one of the three angles that his 1970 book, curiously titled “India’s China War” (and not the other way) took details from the Henderson Brooks report.
“In his book, he had noted that then prime minister and the defence minister had meddled with the military and the North-East Frontier Agency debacle was because of men and material. The Brooks report noted that Nehru’s ill-conceived “Forward Policy”, initiated a year earlier, was the reason for the war rather than China’s aggression.
“The BJP lost no time in seizing the opportunity to take the matter to the election-wary Congress camp and make it a Patel vs Nehru battle. The Congress had no explanation to offer as to why it’s still clinging to the secrecy of the document, given that all the people involved are long dead and gone.”
It is surprising that the Union defence minister who had actively vouched for the military document to be made public earlier did a volte-face in Rajya Sabha by refusing make the report public. Was Jaitley’s intention merely political in March and does it signify that in reality he does not want the country to know what caused the military humiliation for India in 1962?
“This (the Henderson Brooks report) is a top secret document and has not been declassified so far. Release of this report, fully or partially or disclosure of any information in this report would not be in national interest,” Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said in a written response to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
Ironically, in 1992, the History Division, Ministry of Defence in the History of The Conflict with China, 1962 had observed: “Military strategy, however, is always and quite rightly, the hand-maiden of politics. And the debacle of 1962, was basically a political failure. The political factors, therefore, deserve close attention.”
In such a scenario it is inexplicable why the current defence minister took such a stand despite being open to it earlier. It is astonishing that Jaitley simply disowned his views he made so vociferously in March. His blog written five months ago said: “Are archival records are to be kept away from public gaze indefinitely. If the document pertains to internal security there may be some public interest served in keeping them a secret for some time. However, to keep these documents ‘top secret’ indefinitely may not be in larger public interest. Any Nation is entitled to learn from the mistakes of the past. The security relevance of a document loses its relevance in the long term future. Any society is entitled to learn from the past mistakes and take remedial action. With the wisdom of hind sight I am of the opinion that the report’s contents could have been made public some decades ago.”
Given his revised opinion on the ‘top secret’ Henderson Brooks report, it is now unclear if the country would ever know what went wrong in 1962. Perhaps the country would also like to know why leaders have different opinions while in opposition and when on power on the same topic.
Prashant Jha wrote today in The Hindustan Times: “Releasing the report is a first step to making India’s archaic rules on declassifying documents and public records modern. It is also the moment to unleash a conversation about the relationship between the political leadership and the army as well as the political leadership and its intelligence arms in a modern democracy.
“If the BJP wants to be seen as truly different, it would do well to revise its view and not get bullied by babus, commanders and operatives whose job it is to keep secrets from citizens?”
For now, the BJP has definitely missed the bus to be different. Hiding the Henderson Brooks report from the public will lead to even more speculations if the party in power is trying not to cause embarrassment to the main opposition. If a tacit understanding of this nature exists, it means the country continues to be fooled and takes us back to what Jaitley asked in March: “Are we willing to learn the lessons from 1962?”