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.