Declassification of War Histories – Challenges of Credibility

Synopsis: Challenges of credibility in the declassification of war history should be addressed. So that it can help us to analyse lessons learnt by the history and prevent future mistakes.


  • Recently, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced the declassification of India’s war history.
  • It enables the archiving, declassifying, and compiling of India’s war histories, which has been overdue for a long time.
  • The Kargil Review Committee headed by K Subrahmanyam as well as the NN Vohra Committee suggested the requirement of a clear-cut policy on declassification of war records.
  • Further, the responsibility for declassification of records is specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997. The policy mandates that records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years
  • Declassification of Military history will help to analyse lessons learnt and prevent future mistakes.

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What needs to be done to produce a credible war history document?

  • One, in the war histories document, the directives given by political heads during war and conflicts should be compiled along with operational accounts of the Indian military.
    • However, political directives are not included. It is the reason for the Indian Army’s reluctance to declassify the Henderson Brooks Report.
    • The report considers only operational failures during the 1962 war with China. Thus, It does not clarify the role of political leaders involved at that time.
    • On the other hand, several histories of the Vietnam War are now considered to be credible. Because researchers have had access not only to operational accounts but also to archived discussions between the political architects of the conflict.
  • Two, compilation and analysis of events at multiple levels i.e., headquarters, commands, and field formations need to be made accessible. Otherwise, it will not be able to provide a clear analysis of the real picture.
    • For instance, the military general and the ambassador involved in Operation Pawan (India’s intervention in Sri Lanka from 1987-1990) were subject to, much criticism by researchers while others are left unaccountable.
    • This is because, researchers don’t get access to records of discussions involving other generals, admirals and air marshals, and even Prime Minister, Defence minister, etc.,
    • In this regard, writing the official history of Exercise Brasstacks must be prioritized .it will highlight the fusion of decisions taken at multiple headquarters right down to the regiment and squadron level.
  • Three, need to assign a team of dedicated researchers and historians with a mix of academics and practitioners with access to records and files.
    • Non-inclusion of dedicated researchers and historians while declassifying files will restrict the in-depth analysis on strategic decision-making, operational analyses, leadership, and lessons for the future.
  • Four, there is a need for Digitisation and the creation of oral histories. Because the absence of digital conversion will make it difficult to trace files and physical storing of files will lead to the destruction of priceless documents.
    • A software company must be administered for digitization of files. Further, outreach must be made to individual historians, think tanks, and global repositories to share their oral history collections on contemporary Indian military history.
  • Lastly, declassification of files should involve the writing of both the successful and failed operations with due sensitivity. In this context, the following war histories should be given priority.
    • The Nathu La skirmish of 1967
    • The Lightning Campaign’ in the Eastern Theatre during the 1971 War
    • Operation Meghdoot (Siachen)
    • Exercise Brasstacks
    • Operation Falcon (Sumdorong Chu).
    • Operation Pawan

Source: The Hindu

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