NEW DELHI: Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seized upon a secret report about how the government bungled a war with China more than 50 years ago to batter the ruling party days before an election.
India, led by its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was defeated in the 1962 conflict that was painted at home as Chinese aggression across the Himalayas.
But excerpts of a military investigation that were leaked by an Australian journalist who wrote an acclaimed book on the war said the government's policy of forward deployment in the high mountains had increased the chances of conflict.
The BJP, which is the front-runner in the election beginning next month, demanded that the government release the report by former army Lieutenant General Henderson Brooks so that the country would know how the government pushed the military into a war it could only lose.
"What are they trying to hide by making the war report classified ?" BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said. "We have a right to know what went wrong. We lost the war because of Nehru."
The party led by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has targeted the Nehru-Gandhi family that leads the Congress as a central plank of its campaign platform.
The military investigation said that in the months leading to the war, Nehru's government ordered the military to patrol and establish posts far into the disputed border as part of a forward policy to deter the Chinese.
It held the top military brass also responsible for failing to stand up to the government and tell the politicians that it did not have the resources to support aggressive deployment and that troops would be too thinly spread out.
"With the introduction of the forward policy, the chances of a conflict certainly increased…that this implementation would bring about a major change in the military situation was obvious and it cannot be viewed as being wise after the event," the report leaked by journalist and historian Neville Maxwell said.
China's response was immediate and it began setting up posts of its own and by October 1962 the two countries were at war on both the western and eastern stretches of the Himalayas. It ended the following month with China holding large tracts of what India said was its territory.
The two countries remain locked in the territorial dispute although trade ties have boomed in recent years.
"Our leadership lied to the nation, hid information and lived in a romantic world. Result: War lost, territory lost, also loss of face," Ram Madhav, a senior leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP and the umbrella group of Hindu organisations, said in a Twitter post.
The BJP has long advocated a tough national security posture towards both China and Pakistan and last month Modi said Beijing must drop its "mindset of expansion".
The defence ministry in a statement rejected calls to release the war report, saying its contents were sensitive and of current operational value.
Nehru's great grandson, Rahul Gandhi, is leading the Congress campaign in the election next month.