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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene drenching U.S. Atlantic coast

Forecasters say Hurricane Irene is drenching the U.S. mid-Atlantic states on its way to New England.

Irene’s sustained winds on Saturday night are blowing at 80 mph (129 kph) with higher gusts and the storm is moving north-northeast at 16 mph (26 kph). It’s expected to pick up speed.

Hurricane warnings extend north to Nantucket, Massachusetts. A tropical storm warning extends all the way to the south coast of Nova Scotia, Canada.

The National Hurricane Center says Irene will be moving over cooler waters but is still expected to stay a hurricane until landfall again near Long Island, New York, about midday Sunday.

The storm has knocked out power to at least 1.8 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey.


Anna breaks fast, says fight against corruption will go on

Social activist Anna Hazare ended his 12-day fast by sipping tender coconut water mixed with honey. offered by two little girls Simran and Ikra, at Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi on Sunday.

Addressing thousands of cheering supporters, Mr. Hazare said, "I have just defererd my agitation, the fight is on for a Lokpal."

The Gandhian said the fight has just begun for electoral reforms and changes in education and other sectors. "Dont remain silent even after passage of a strong Lokpal, continue your fight for change in system," he said.

Earlier, hundreds of supporters descended at the historic Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, where the anti-corruption crusader broke his fast on the 13th day.

Around 4,000 people stayed overnight at the protest venue while hundreds of others arrived early in the morning.

“I started at around 5 a.m. as I wanted to ensure that I could be in the front row, so that I could witness Anna breaking his fast,” said 37-year-old Ramesh Kumar, a resident of Ghaziabad.

There was a festive atmosphere at the ground, as people are singing and dancing to the tune of drums and celebrating the “victory” of Mr. Hazare.

Another supporter Vijay Gupta, who had come along with his family from Lucknow said he was “happy to be part of history in making.” “I am extremely happy that the government has conceded to the demand of Anna Hazare, the corruption is affecting everybody in the society and we want a very strong Lokpal Bill,” he said amid chanting of slogans.

There was heavy deployment of police personnel in and around the venue. People hoisted flags and chanted slogans making the atmosphere festive and jubilant.


The miracle that was Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's path was a unique one. While she never deviated from her faith, she reached out to millions of her special constituency, the deprived and the dying, recognising their faces to be the face of her God.

A few weeks ago I visited one of Mother Teresa's Sisters who was admitted for surgery in the PGI hospital in Chandigarh. Haryana Chief Secretary Urvashi Gulati and the Principal Secretary to the Governor accompanied me that morning to Sister Ann Vinita's bedside. Attending to her in the hospital were two companion Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. In the course of conversation, one of them said that she was really happy to meet me. She went on to explain that as a young woman in Kerala, she had admired Mother Teresa's work, but it was when she chanced to read my biography of Mother Teresa that she decided to join the Order. That a young Catholic woman should have read a book written by one, who while he was unmistakably close to Mother Teresa yet did not share her faith, stunned me into silence. It made me reflect on a number of issues related and unrelated: of the strength of secular values; and of true compassion knowing no religious, ethnic, caste or geographical boundaries, and indeed being able to transcend altogether the formal contours of religious practice.

Mother Teresa understood her environment acutely. She was no evangelist in the 19th century mould. She remained true to her religion till her last breath, but chose not to impose it on others. Never once during my 23-year-long association with her did she ever suggest that her religion was the only path, or that it was in any way superior. Yet she often reminded those around her of the power of prayer. If I occasionally remarked on some initiative she had taken as a “good idea,” she would reply with a teasing smile that if I learned to pray I would get a few good ideas too! She often urged those who came to her that they must be good Hindus or Muslims or Christians or Sikhs, and in that process must learn to “find God.”

It was indicative of her success that she understood that in an overwhelmingly non-Christian India, her path had to be a unique one. So while she never deviated from her faith, she reached out to millions of her special constituency: the poorest of the poor, the leprosy sufferers, abandoned children or the hungry and dying, recognising their faces to be the face of her God. Their religious persuasion, or even its absence, hardly concerned her. In her ability to have found the middle path in an environment that could have easily become hostile, lay her genius. I once asked the legendary Chief Minster of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, what he an atheist and a Communist could possibly have in common with a Catholic nun for whom God was everything. With a smile, he replied: “We share a love for the poor.” India revered her and gave her abundantly of its honours, including the Bharat Ratna. On August 26, 2010, a five- rupee coin was released to commemorate her birth centenary.

Over the years I witnessed many incidents that I called “co-incidences” and which others might well call “miracles.” One day in the 1980s at Mother House in Kolkata, a rare medicine was needed to save the life of a child. In those days it was not manufactured in India. When hope was almost lost, and as the Sisters prayed, a carton of assorted leftover medicines was donated by an unknown benefactor. Right on top was the very drug that was needed. The child's life was saved.

On another occasion, Mother Teresa arrived in Delhi from abroad. I was at the airport to receive her. Her flight was late. As she got off, anxiety was writ over her face. “You must get me on the flight to Calcutta. There is a dying child here; I am carrying a new medicine.” I told Mother that was impossible. Her flight had been late, and the last Calcutta-bound Indian Airlines flight was boarding. Mother Teresa's own luggage was also yet to come. But as word spread at the airport, the seemingly impossible happened. The first few items of luggage on the conveyer belt happened to be her cardboard cartons (she never owned a suitcase!). Someone informed air traffic control of Mother Teresa's efforts. The pilot happened to be a Calcutta man. Suddenly I was asked if I could drive Mother Teresa in my car to the tarmac — and she caught her flight. I rang her the next morning. The child had been administered the medicine on her arrival, and was now out of danger. “It is a first-class miracle,” said Mother Teresa.

Far from once not believing in miracles, I am now in little doubt that Mother Teresa's life itself was a miracle. Witness the facts: as a child of 14 in her native Albania, her imagination was stirred by the stories she heard from the Jesuit Fathers of their work in distant Bengal; at 18, still a teenager, her mind was made up. She took leave of her own beloved mother and joined the Loreto Order of teaching nuns, her only means in the year 1928 of reaching India. It was an age when missionaries seldom returned home, and she was embarking on a life in a world of which she knew nothing. She was sent to Darjeeling for training. She learned to speak Bengali fluently. After almost 20 happy years as a teaching nun, she audaciously sought (and finally received) permission from the Vatican to become the first nun in the history of the Church to step outside convent walls, not as a lay person, but as a nun with her vows intact, to start a mission of her own. She had no helper, no companion, and no money to speak of. Imagine the Calcutta of 1948, overflowing with refugees after Partition, homelessness, poverty and disease everywhere. She wore no recognisable nun's habit; instead a sari, akin to that worn by municipal sweepresses, that cost one rupee. This is where she started her life's arduous mission.

We know where she left off. By the time she passed away in 1997, she had created her presence in 123 countries. She ran a multinational run by 5,000 nuns of her Order, without the help of government grants or Church assistance. She had been awarded every conceivable prize of distinction. She was as warmly received in palaces and chancelleries as she was in the slums and streets of the world's cities. People sometimes accuse her of converting others to her faith: surely then there was no need for her to set up a branch in the heart of the Vatican. She cajoled Pope John Paul II to carve out a soup kitchen next to his grand audience chamber. Anyone today can witness the queues of Rome's poor, who are fed their only hot meal every evening. A former British Prime Minister told me not long ago that when Mother Teresa visited him at Downing Street she always managed to get his aides overruled, and got everything she wanted — because it was always for ‘her poor.' In any event, by now it was difficult for Prime Ministers to say ‘no' to her, for she was recognised as the conscience-keeper of her age.

As a Hindu, armed only with a certain eclecticism, I found it took me longer than most others to understand that Mother Teresa was with Christ in each conscious hour, whether at Mass, or with each of those whom she tended. The Christ on her crucifix was not different from the one who lay dying at her hospice in Kalighat. There could be no contradiction in her oft-repeated words that one must reach out to one's neighbour.

For Mother Teresa, to love one's neighbour was to love God. This was what was essential to her, not the size of her mission or the power others perceived in her. “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful,” she explained. Mother Teresa exemplified that faith — in prayer, in love, in service, and in peace.

(Navin Chawla, a former Chief Election Commissioner of India, is the author of Mother Teresa: The Authorised Biography.)

The Hindu

Friday, August 26, 2011

African Union declines to recognize Libya’s transitional rebel council

The African Union refused Friday to recognize Libya’s oppositional National Transitional Council (NTC) and instead called for the establishment of an authority that included all the warring parties in the country.

The AU’s snub highlights the influence ousted Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi had on the AU, given that he was one of the continental group’s main bankrollers and had provided lavish sums to several African leaders.

“The AU peace and security council is weighted with countries who have backed Qaddafi in the past or owe him favors. They will not recognize the NTC,” one senior Western diplomat with knowledge of negotiations in a closed-door heads of state emergency Peace and Security Council summit.

With rebels still battling diehard forces loyal to Qaddafi, South African President Jacob Zuma said at the end of an AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa that the rebels were not yet legitimate.

“There is a process in Libya wherein the NTC forces are in the process of taking over Tripoli ... but there is still that fighting going on.”

“So we can’t therefore stand and say this is the legitimate one now,” Zuma told reporters.

The pan-African body called on Libyan parties to set up a transitional government ahead of elections.

The AU “encourages the Libyan stakeholders to accelerate the process leading to the formation of an all-inclusive transitional government that would be welcome to occupy a seat in the African Union,” the bloc’s Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters.

Officials at the talks said the 15-member council was split almost in half between countries that have recognized the NTC and countries who have not. The council takes in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Libya, Namibia, South Africa, Djibouti, Rwanda, Burundi, Chad Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali and Mauritania.

Earlier, a senior South African government source said the AU could recognize the rebels, although he said the group may want some from Qaddafi’s side involved in a transition.

Only three heads of state attended the emergency summit. Two of them, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, have been vocal supporters of Qaddafi, which may have influenced the group’s decision.

Zimbabwe is also one of the few states strongly in Qaddafi’s camp and the country is seen as a possible asylum destination for him.

The AU has proposed a road map for a change in leadership in Libya that has been mostly overlooked by Western powers – a rebuff analysts said has angered many African states with long ties to Qaddafi.

The African Union was founded at a summit in Qaddafi’s hometown on Sept. 9, 1999. The state-owned Afriqiyah Airways marks that date by painting the motif “9.9.99” on the tail of each of its jets.


Qaddafi calls on all Libyans to march on Tripoli to rid it of rebels

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi called on his supporters on Thursday to march on Tripoli and “purify” the capital of rebels, whom he denounced as “rats, crusaders and unbelievers.”

In a short audio speech broadcast on loyalist TV channels, Qaddafi called on all Libyas tribes to rally and expel what he called foreign agents from the country.

“Libya is for the Libyan people and not for the agents, not for imperialism, not for France, not for Sarkozy, not for Italy,” he said. “Tripoli is for you, not for those who rely on NATO.”

This is the third message that Qaddafi, whose whereabouts are unknown, has delivered since rebels captured his headquarters in Tripoli on Tuesday and failed to find him.

In one speech, carried by the website of a television station headed by his son Seif al-Islam, he said he had abandoned his compound in a “tactical withdrawal” after it had been wrecked by NATO warplanes.

“Bab al-Aziziya was nothing but a heap of rubble after it was the target of 64 NATO missiles and we withdrew from it for tactical reasons,” he said early Wednesday.

In a later audio message on Arrai Oruba, Qaddafi urged residents to “cleanse Tripoli of rats.”

He also said he had taken to the streets of Tripoli without being recognized.

Qaddafi has not been seen in public for weeks and his whereabouts are unknown.

The rebel National Transitional Council has offered a reward for Qaddafi’s capture and the International Criminal Court has charged him with crimes against humanity.

In a nod to a speech he made early in the uprising against his 41-year rule, Qaddafi urged Libya’s youth and tribal leaders to take control of their neighborhoods from the rebels and then march on the capital.

“Street by street, alleyway by alleyway, house by house,” said Qaddafi. “The tribes that are outside of Tripoli must march on Tripoli. Each tribe must control its area and stop the enemy setting its foot on this pure land.”

“O sheikhs of the mosques, O scholars, incite the people to jihad. Go out as their leaders.”

“The enemy is delusional, NATO is retreating. It cannot go on forever in the air. NATO be damned,” he shouted. “We will defeat them with determination, through will, commitment to freedom, sovereignty, dignity and glory. Never be afraid of them, only fear God, you are closer to God than them.”


For a strong and effective Lokpal

The Anna Hazare fast has seen an outpouring of support across the country. The government Lokpal Bill is unacceptable. A fresh Bill is needed for an effective Lokpal.

There has been an outpouring of support all over the country in favour of the fast conducted by Anna Hazare for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The agitation has found support predominantly from the urban middle classes and a substantial section of youth belonging to the strata. There is no doubt that since the first hunger strike launched by Anna Hazare in April, the anti-corruption movement has gained momentum.

The attitude of the United Progressive Alliance government and its failure to tackle corruption, have fuelled widespread anger. First, the government is seen as being complicit in corruption. This has been the most corrupt government in the history of independent India. The paradox of a “clean” Prime Minister heading such a government has sunk into the consciousness of the urban middle classes.

The manner in which Ministers in the government defended the corrupt practices indulged in as a part of the 2G spectrum allocation, stating that there was zero loss of revenue for the government, confirmed the fears of many people that this government, steeped in corruption as it is, cannot take any meaningful action on this front. In all the cases – whether it be those related to the allocation of 2G spectrum or the conduct of the Commonwealth Games – agencies independent of the government, that is, the Supreme Court of India or, the Comptroller and Auditor General, were the ones that spurred the Central Bureau of Investigation into action to investigate and prosecute the guilty.

The problem has been compounded by the government's act of introducing a Lokpal Bill that is weak and ineffective. The Prime Minister is excluded from the purview of the Lokpal. The method of appointment of the Lokpal will not make it an independent authority. A Lokpal set up under the provisions of this Bill would be unable to act independently. There are no provisions for the Lokpal to act against corporates and business enterprises that indulge in corrupt practices in relation to the government.

Secondly, the UPA government and the Congress leadership were in the dock for the manner in which Anna Hazare and his colleagues were arrested on the morning of August 16, even before the hunger strike was launched. The irony of a corrupt government putting an anti-corruption crusader in Tihar jail was not lost on the people. The brazen attack on the democratic rights of citizens to protest peacefully, isolated the government among the people and inside Parliament.

The ruling party decried the Hazare-led movement as an attack on Parliament and democratic institutions. Its leaders claimed that since the government has introduced a Bill in Parliament, any agitation against it is an attack on Parliament. This is specious reasoning. Political parties and citizens' organisations have the right to oppose and agitate against any bill introduced in Parliament. The Left parties and the trade unions have opposed many bills which were anti-working class, and organised protest actions and struggles against them. Strikes have taken place against proposed legislation that seeks to liberalise the financial sector in the areas of insurance and banking.

Even the Congress opposed the Prevention of Terrorism Bill that was introduced in Parliament in 2002 by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The Congress continued to oppose the legislation even after its enactment, and demanded its withdrawal.

Corruption has become a major issue and people are increasingly becoming conscious and determined to fight it. But there is need for a proper understanding of the causes for the rampant corruption that has affected all spheres of public life. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has set out its understanding of the present malaise of corruption, the causes and the effects.

In the last two decades, with the advent of liberalisation and the neo-liberal policies, high-level corruption has become institutionalised. The neo-liberal regime has led to an exponential rise in corruption. Much of this corruption stems from the big business-ruling politician-bureaucratic nexus which has been established.

We have seen how, in the seven years of the UPA government and the earlier six years of the NDA government, policy-making has been suborned to serve the interests of big business; how privatisation and the loot of natural resources are facilitated by this nexus in operation; how the UPA government has pandered to big business – Indian and foreign – by putting in place policies and mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of resources such as land, minerals, natural gas and so on to business barons. The neo-liberal regime has affected the political system with big capital holding sway. Increasingly, politics is being converted into a business, and business is conducted through politics.

The fight against high-level corruption, therefore, requires a multi-pronged effort. There has to be an effective Lokpal authority; there has to be electoral reforms to curb money power for politics; there has to be a distinct mechanism to curb corruption in the higher judiciary through separate legislation; there has to be firm measures to unearth black money and crack down on those who have stashed away illegal money abroad in tax havens. Above all, the features of the neo-liberal regime, which encourage accumulation of capital through corrupt means and facilitate the loot of natural resources by big business, should be ended.

The main source of support for the Hazare-led movement is the urban middle class. Many of them were supporters of the liberalisation policies and the reforms ushered in by the Manmohan Singh government. Now plagued by corruption, they want a messiah to get rid of the corruption that constantly affects their daily life. They would like corruption to end, while maintaining the economic regime that has conferred certain benefits on them. Hence they are unable to see the organic link between the neo-liberal policies and the corruption that has been engendered.

The middle class propensity to be anti-political, to blame all politicians and to hold Parliament in contempt, are all on display in the Anna Hazare movement. The constant harping against all political parties and the setting of unilateral deadlines for Parliament to act have raised apprehensions about their intent and commitment to democratic values. This has only detracted from the rightness of the cause and the popular support it has evoked.

There is legitimate anger against the plutocracy that has come to dominate the political system. But this plutocracy and the corrupt nexus cannot be fought by targeting political parties and concentrating fire only on the petty corruption that citizens face in their daily lives. Given the amorphous nature of the movement that has gathered around Anna Hazare, the right-wing forces, including the corporate media, seek to support and direct the movement away from the focus on the fountainhead of corruption. There is a constant masking of the real causes of corruption in society. In a poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, published recently in The Hindu, to a question ‘who is the most corrupt,' 32 per cent of those surveyed said government employees were the most corrupt; 43 per cent said elected representatives were the most corrupt; and only 3 per cent thought businessmen and industrialists were the most corrupt. This is the dominant opinion among the middle classes.

In every major corruption scandal in the recent period, there was big business or corporates involved in the act of corrupting public servants – whether they were Ministers or civil servants. In the irregularities involved in the 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games and the Krishna-Godavari basin gas contract, the hidden hand of big business exists. The government's Lokpal Bill does not address this issue at all. The Jan Lokpal bill at least has clauses providing for the cancellation of contracts, and imposition of penalties on business found to have been illegally obtained by them. But the thrust of the anti-corruption movement, by and large, misses this main factor.

While a set of measures has to be taken to tackle the problem of corruption, right now the issue is the setting up of a strong Lokpal authority. The government's Lokpal Bill has been rejected by large sections of the people; and it is not acceptable to most of the Opposition parties. In such a situation, the government should retract from its stand.

After eight days of the fast by Anna Hazare, the government has bowed down to public pressure and initiated talks with the representatives of the Hazare group. This is a welcome development. Hopefully, this will lead to a fresh or modified bill that can pave the way for an effective Lokpal.

(Prakash Karat is the general secretary of the Communist Party of India - Marxist.)

The Hindu