Democracy and Security: “To The Last Bullet” by Vinita Kamte

March 27, 2010

What is the relationship between democratic governance and security? A recent book about the events of November 26, 2008, in Mumbai offers an insight.


What began as a bereaved wife’s quest to understand her husband’s last moments has crystallized into the foundation of public discussion on India’s security preparedness.

I have been meaning to get hold of a copy of “To the last bullet: The inspiring story of braveheart Ashok Kamte” by Vinita Kamte (With Vinita Deshmukh) (published by Ameya Prakashan,Pune, 2009) ever since I read press excerpts and discussions about five months ago. I finally read it earlier this week. The book is written in two parts, essentially. The first reconstructs the events of “26/11,” first from Vinita Kamte’s perspective and then through interviews and most importantly wireless transcripts obtained from the police. The second is about Ashok Kamte’s life and career.

The first part is of great interest, partly because it raises many questions about what happened that night. Unable to get answers to simple questions about her husband’s location and why he was there, Vinita Kamte used one of India’s most recent democratic tools—the Right to Information petition—to access transcripts of wireless communications that night. These reveal goof-ups, cover-ups, gaps in communication and not unpreparedness but an inability to use what was available in a timely fashion.

Since the Right to Information (2005) Act was passed, Indians have enthusiastically used it to push back the fortress-like walls that surround government in the name of secrecy or security and government has mostly responded by opening up and trying to improve governance. Ms. Kamte’s use of an RTI petition raises new possibilities. A question that both theoreticians and practitioners should consider: What changes can we anticipate when the security sector—anywhere—is forced to open up, answer questions and act with accountability, not to a committee or governing board but to citizens? There is nothing that stops any citizen, as Ms. Kamte, has shown from making what they learn publicly accessible.

Interpreting Maoist Violence

September 27, 2009

An op-ed by a leading political commentator points out that Maoist idealogues and the government in fact, interpret the appeal of insurgency in similar ways.


Bibek Debroy, The insurgent’s mind, The Indian Express, September 25, 2009.

On September 20, 2009, Kobad Ghandy, a senior Maoist idealogue and social activist, was arrested in New Delhi. His arrest has spurred interest in the whys and wherefores of Maoist movements, and much reminiscing by those who know him and have worked with him in a variety of political contexts. Ghandy’s urban, elite background is in sharp contrast to the setting in which Maoists work, and his arrest is now drawing attention to governance failures as well as civil rights issues that every society witness to insurgency and counter-insurgency activity must think about.

Shoma Chaudhury, Weapons of Mass Desperation, Tehelka, October 3, 2009.
Daipaiyan Haldar, ‘Arrest won’t end Naxal movement’: Interview with Varavara Rao, Mid-day, Delhi, September 24, 2009.
Pratik Kanjilal, Violence is a zero-sum game, Hindustan Times, September 25, 2009.

The following article provides perspective on a generation of Indians who were responsive at some point in their lives to the social and political realities around them, some of them continuing to remain active in the civil rights movement and in Ghandy’s case, working with the Maoists.
Sidharth Bhatia, A posh rebel in India’s heart of darkness, Daily News and Analysis, September 26, 2009.

Every now and then, in fact as often as possible, in a democratic society, as the state battles its many challengers, opinion-leaders and public intellectuals should raise questions about the causes for the challenge, the legitimacy of the response and the nature of good citizenship.

‘Seminar’ on India’s National Security

August 6, 2009

Useful resource for contemporary debates on South Asian and global issues.


Seminar’ is an institution, more than a magazine. Started in the early 1960s by public intellectuals who were also influential in the corridors of power, the magazine is essentially a monthly symposium bringing together a wide range of perspectives on any given topic. A large part of Seminar‘s archives are also freely available online.

In July, the Seminar theme was ‘National Security’ bringing together several newer scholars in the field.