Florida keeps America on edge
CM suspense before state birth
Advani makes himself count
Calcutta Weather

 
 
FLORIDA KEEPS AMERICA ON EDGE 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Nov. 8: 
George W. Bush was elected 43rd President of the US, but only for a few minutes early on Wednesday. He had victory snatched away from him as Vice-President Al Gore, who had initially conceded defeat, retracted the concession given the slim margin.

Americans were on pins and needles tonight as the choice of a new President to succeed Bill Clinton remained deadlocked. A nationwide vote count revealed that Bush’s “one-vote majority” in the electoral college which chooses the President was the result of a minuscule lead of one-thirtieth of one per cent in the voting in Florida.

Election laws in Florida require that if a poll is won by a majority of one half of one per cent or less, the votes have to be recounted. The recounting may not be completed until tomorrow afternoon, the state’s election supervisor said. The latest figures showed a difference of a few hundred votes.

US television networks, after initially projecting that Bush had won the election, backed off that forecast after the gap narrowed in Florida.

Gore had won 260 votes in the electoral college of 538 members, while Bush had 14 less with returns from two states, Oregon being the other one with seven electors, still awaited. But Florida, with 25 votes, holds the key.

During a long election night of counting the popular votes and tabulating electoral votes, confusion reigned as the crucial electoral votes see-sawed from Republican Bush to Democrat Gore and back again.

The close contest made the outcome in most of the states too close to call. Finally, with results from Florida coming in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Bush crossed the magic figure of 270 votes, by one.

Gore telephoned Bush, conceded defeat and wished the President-elect well. It was decided that Bush would make an acceptance speech before his supporters in Austin, Texas, where he is Governor, after Gore publicly acknowledged defeat.

But as Gore was driving to his supporters in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, aides told Clinton’s vice-president of eight years that all was not lost. They brought to his attention Florida’s requirement of a recount.

It was also revealed that absentee ballots in Florida, estimated variously between 5,000 and 55,000, had not been counted. Bush’s majority in the final tally from the state before the recount was a mere 1,200 votes.

Some Democrat leaders, in any case, had suspected there was something amiss in the counting of votes in Florida, where Bush’s brother Jeb is the Governor.

Gore hastily called off the thanksgiving speech to his supporters and called Bush once again to say that he was retracting because “circumstances have changed”.

“We have now learnt we are down by only about 600 votes out of millions cast and that means an automatic recount. I need to withdraw my concession until the situation is clear,” an aide quoted Gore as telling his opponent.

Bush was stunned. Karen Hughes, the Republican candidate’s communications director, described Gore’s behaviour as “unbelievable”.

A short while later, Don Evans, Republican campaign manager, appeared in front of the Governor’s mansion in Texas and told a crowd of 20,000 awaiting the acceptance speech that he hoped and believed Bush would be the next President. “I’m confident when it is all said and done that we will prevail.”

Around the same time in Nashville, Gore’s campaign manager William Daley told a cheering crowd of Democrats that conceding the presidency to Bush was “premature”. “But this race is simply too close to call and until the results become official, our campaign continues.”

Bush may yet become President after the recount in Florida. But although he has won in almost 30 of America’s 50 states, he will lack a clear popular mandate.

Gore could end up with a higher percentage of popular votes than Bush even if the latter becomes President through a majority in the electoral college. At the time of going to press, Gore, with 49 per cent of the popular votes, was leading by one per cent. He was defeated in his native Tennessee and in Clinton’s home state Arkansas, but he won in the big ones like New York and California.

The turmoil in the race for the White House was not the only bizarre episode on election night. Mel Carnahan, the Governor of Missouri who died in a plane crash last month, was elected to the Senate. His widow will be appointed in his place.    


 
 
CM SUSPENSE BEFORE STATE BIRTH 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Dehradun, Nov. 8: 
If Americans asked each other who would be their next President, people in Uttaranchal faced a similar question: who will be the new state’s first chief minister?

No one knew till late evening who would take the oath of office. Though Nityanand Swami, who was eventually sworn in at midnight, was “confident” he would be chief minister, others, including policemen deployed to provide him security, were not. “No one has told us anything. We are working on a hunch,” said officer in-charge Vijay Gautam at 12.30 pm.

The confusion took a curious turn after supporters of Uttaranchal party chief Bhagat Singh Koshiari burst crackers and waved posters “congratulating Uttaranchal’s new chief minister”.

Others vowed that they would not rest till Koshiari, Uttar Pradesh’s minister for culture Ramesh Pokharial or Pauri MP B.C. Khanduri was made the chief minister. “All we want is that the new state’s first chief minister should be a pahari,” said a leader owing allegiance to Koshiari.

Chaos among the party’s leaders and workers was palpable as various BJP factions resisted the “Centre’s superimposition” till the last minute. Unlike in the US, the tension in Uttaranchal took an ugly turn as BJP members opposing Swami beat up his supporters at the party’s main office here.

The high command did not help matters by not clearing the air on who would be the chief minister of India’s 27th state. Swami was elected legislature party leader hours before the swearing-in.

The Uttarakhand Mahila Manch, which has been in the forefront of the agitation for a separate state, also favoured a pahari chief minister.

Activist-turned-BJP leader Usha Negi walked out of an informal meeting of local leaders, saying she would not take part in something she did not believe in. “This is pathetic,” she fumed. “At least the first chief minister should have been from the hills.”

Though Swami is aware of the popular sentiment, he fights the allegation of being a “non-pahari”. “I gave my whole life to the hills,” he said. “Five decades of my life have been spent here and suddenly people are calling me an outsider. It hurts.” Born in Haryana, Swami was Dehradun’s MLA from 1969 to 1974. “What is this mool (origin) business? I am a highlander and that’s all I know.”

But not many are convinced. “No one is saying anything because Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani want him to be the chief minister. But the anger at having a Punjabi Governor and a Haryanvi chief minister will soon be a major source of trouble for Swami,” said a BJP leader who came from Lucknow to attend the legislature party meeting.

The BJP meeting, which chose Swami “unanimously”, took close to four hours to reach unanimity. Insiders said the dissenters relented only after human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi stepped in.

Some BJP supporters who had gathered outside Hotel Dron, where the meeting was held, didn’t know who they would eventually garland. Maheshchandra Bisht said: “Jo CM banke niklega usi ko mala pehnayenge.”    


 
 
ADVANI MAKES HIMSELF COUNT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Nov. 8: 
Home minister L.K. Advani has a far greater say in affairs of the government and the BJP than he did a few months back.

Whether it was Uma Bharti’s rehabilitation or asking Babulal Marandi to resign from the Cabinet as a prelude to being sworn in Jharkhand chief minister, BJP sources said Atal Behari Vajpayee has been forced to let Advani have the last word on a number of key issues.

Samples:

Advani, sources claimed, was instrumental in pushing through Nityanand Swami’s name for chief minister of the new Uttaranchal state, despite a groundswell of protest in the hill areas.

Swami, who comes from Haryana, is seen as an “outsider” by Uttarakhandis — people of Uttaranchal call themselves by this name — for whom the notion of a “pahari identity” was the raison d’être of their long-standing demand for a separate hill state.

The sources, however, argued that the decision to choose the legislative council member, overlooking the claims of at least four MLAs, was based on cold electoral calculations.

“Once a fresh delimitation of the Assembly segments is carried out, our feedback is that at least 50 of the 80-odd constituencies will fall in the plains area where the pahari vote does not count for much,” they said. “These places are cosmopolitan and Swami’s appointment is a way of telling the plains people we care for them.”

Advani’s decision has reportedly irked Murli Manohar Joshi. The human resources development minister, who is from Almora, was keen that his nominee, Ramesh Pokharial, become chief minister.

In the see-saw power struggle between Marandi and senior party vice-president Karia Munda for the Jharkhand top job, Advani seems to have succeeded in manoeuvring his protégé to a position of relative strength.

Sources said Joshi and Kailashpati Mishra, vice-president in charge of Bihar, backed Munda for the job as he was senior to Marandi. But Advani forced Vajpayee’s hand in getting Marandi to resign from the Cabinet and pre-empt a counter-move from the Mishra camp.

Munda, who yesterday refused to take oath as minister of state for forests and environment in Marandi’s place, told reporters today that he was being passed over at “someone’s behest”.

“Though I am considered a senior party MP, the BJP leadership never took me into confidence on issues relating to Jharkhand. It seems the party is acting under someone’s behest,” he said, in what was interpreted in party circles as a reference to Advani.

Advani also managed to have his own way in Uttar Pradesh when Rajnath Singh replaced Ram Prakash Gupta as chief minister. Just three months ago, when it almost seemed as though Singh was set to replace Gupta, two key Vajpayee aides — Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon — backed by a backward caste minister, Om Prakash Singh, had scuttled the move.

Sources said that with Rajnath at the helm, Advani has another opportunity to elbow himself into the politics of this crucial state where he had earlier used to call the shots through another protégé, Kalyan Singh. Before Rajnath’s arrival, sources said Vajpayee was virtually controlling the state by proxy through Mishra and Tandon.

The reinduction of Sushma Swaraj and Bharti — both Advani loyalists — into the Cabinet signals yet another triumph for the home minister.Munda, who yesterday refused to take oath as minister of state for forests and environment in Marandi’s place, told reporters today that he was being passed over at “someone’s behest”.

“Though I am considered a senior party MP, the BJP leadership never took me into confidence on issues relating to Jharkhand. It seems the party is acting under someone’s behest,” he said, in what was interpreted in party circles as a reference to Advani.

Advani also managed to have his own way in Uttar Pradesh when Rajnath Singh replaced Ram Prakash Gupta as chief minister. Just three months ago, when it almost seemed as though Singh was set to replace Gupta, two key Vajpayee aides — Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon — backed by a backward caste minister, Om Prakash Singh, had scuttled the move.

Sources said that with Rajnath at the helm, Advani has another opportunity to elbow himself into the politics of this crucial state where he had earlier used to call the shots through another protégé, Kalyan Singh. Before Rajnath’s arrival, sources said Vajpayee was virtually controlling the state by proxy through Mishra and Tandon.

The reinduction of Sushma Swaraj and Bharti — both Advani loyalists — into the Cabinet signals yet another triumph for the home minister.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.2°C (+l)
Minimum: 20.2°C (+l)

Rainfall:

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 48%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 20°C    
 

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