Thursday, March 20, 2014

Was Lt Gen. BM Kaul of the 62’ war fame a Poltroon or a Patsy?

The recent release of the net version of, yet to be declassified, Henderson Brook’s Report (HBR) has revived the debate on  Lt gen BM Kaul and ‘Forward Policy”. Much like the maps and borders, independent India’s strategy had brazenly borrowed the word “forward policy” from the old British files on Tibet to build up a case, against China. The HBR not only omit’s the role of political class in 1962 war but also the international influences that shaped Pol-Mil thought in India.

The origins of the ‘forward policy’ in Indian strategic lexicon date back to early 1900s. Forward policy was what the British had employed in Tibet, ostensibly as a “counter policy” against Russia’s “aggressive” intent. Explaining to the Chinese, the so-called “British Mission in Tibet” or British military forays into Lhasa, Sir Walter Lawrence wrote in The North American Review, in 1904. 

“It is well that those who inhabit the fortress, and that those who live on the glacis over the Indian frontiers, should know that their misfortunes, whether they take the form of taxation, or of military occupation, are due, not to the "forward policy" of India's rulers, but to the aggressive policy of India's greatest enemy. There is no such thing now as a “forward policy “in India. The old idea of a Lawrence policy, and of a forward policy, as the only two alternatives, is out of date. New factors have come into play, and the Indian policy of to-day may be defined as one of preventive defence.” 

In late 1950s, the relative decline in the British influence on India was balanced by enhanced American presence in Indian political economy. By 1957 the quantum of US AID and  World Bank loans had increased manifold. Many within the Indian establishment were desirous of piling up India defence with western, especially, American weapons. 

On 26 November 1962, when war with China was on the verge of getting over, TT Krishnamachari (TTK) wrote a letter to government of India, promoting a M-14 gun from an American company. The company had approached then Chief Minister of Punjab, Mr. Pratap Singh Kairon. These were some of the key players pushing the “shopping list” of arms that was to be handed over to the USA. 

In the wake of Independent India’s first major financial scam, the Mundra scandal, TTK was removed as Finance minister in 1958. Post war, in 1962, TTK was made the minster for Economic and Defence Cooperation (E&D) for a brief period before taking on the finance responsibility. During his short stint at E&D ministry, TTK went to Washington in 1963, asking the Kennedy administration for military aid to the tune of $1.3 billion.[1]

Another key player in Nehru’s cabinet during the 1962 war was Morarji Desai, finance minster from 1958. Desai’s dislike for Krishna Menon, the defence minister is well known. Desai was responsible for stalling many of the proposals forwarded by the MoD headed by Krishna Menon. 

Morarji Desai’s closeness to the American establishment was well known even to the Chinese. Commenting on Nehru’s American proclivities, the Chinese leadership remarked, “Nehru, is however a representative of the gross bourgeoisie. The reactionary tendency has the upper hand in the Nehru government policies. In his pro-American policy, there is no difference between Nehru and Desai.”[2]

Another stalwart in this game was Lt Gen BM Kaul. A by-product of flamboyance and nepotism, Kaul became the most discredited military commander of the 1962 debacle. As Corps Commander, Kaul not vacated his post during the war, but also reported sick and parked himself in Delhi. 

According to K. Subrahmanyam, as the Chief of General Staff, Gen Kaul, “met the US under Secretary of State Chester Bowles the summer of 1962 without the knowledge of the Prime Minister and Defence Minister and discussed with him the possibility of a Chinese attack that fall.[3] The question is, why did Kaul, a serving army officer meet Bowles? If Kaul knew about the imminence of the attack, then why did he proceed on leave? 

More intriguing is the fact that with war clouds hovering over the country, both the Prime Minister Nehru as well as Defence Minister Krishna Menon had left the country in the month of September. The Director of Military Operations was sent on the Vikrant cruise. 

Despite K. Subrahmanyam raising these pertinent issues in his earlier writing, they have largely remained buried. For some reasons, scholars, who have been looking for release of Henderson Brook’s Report had conveniently ignored these glaring gaps in the 1962 war story. 

The popular discourse does disgrace Kaul but his tenure as India’s defence attache to USA in 1947-48 and his other American connections have largely remained obscured.

Kaul enjoyed good rapport with the high and mighty in the US. In 1948, Nehru, before his 1949 US visit, asked Kaul to approach the US authorities for an exclusive Indo-US military relationship.[4] Nehru bypassed ambassador, Asif Ali, because Kaul was considered to be close to Louis Johnson, then US Defence Secretary. [5]

The questions that need to be asked is, why did the Army Headquarters, with Gen Kaul as the key players in the game did not play according to the rules? Their actions resulted in a frivolous war and made India lose 3000 of its brave soldiers.

According to page 10 of the  net version of HBR report:
“The relevant orders from Delhi were deliberately not passed to the command...There is no doubt that the implementation of the “forward Policy” in the manner it was done, was carried out deliberately by Army headquarters without the necessary backing, as laid down by the government.” (Emphasis added).

Nehru, who in accordance with Chester Bowles' advice went on to adopt a mini-Monroe doctrine to assume leadership in the Asian region got entrapped into fighting a war that had very little to do with Indian national interests. Therefore, it is all the more important to get to the root of the 1962 war and dispassionately ask, was Lt Gen Kaul a poltroon or a patsy? 

Can we just dismiss the case by stating that Kaul was a coward, a poltroon who reported sick during or war? Or do we need to move beyond and probe; was Gen Biji Kaul a Patsy, a sacrificial lamb who was used by Galbraith, the American Ambassador to India in 1962 and finally thrown away into the dustbin of history.

[1] Dennis Kux, Estranged Democracies: India and United States – 1941-1991, Sage Publications, 1993,P.213 

[2] Prozumenschikov,MY, The Sino-Indian Conflict, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Sino-Soviet Split, October 1962: New Evidence from the Russian Archives, Record of Conversation (from East German archives) between Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Mongolian leader J. Zedenbal, Beijing, 26 December1962 

[4] AG Noornai, “In Constant Repair”, The Hindustan Times , 16 April 2004 

[5] K. Subrahmanyam, “Arms and Politics”, Strategic Analysis Volume: 29 Issue: 1, January 2005,

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