Waves of Bihar vice lap Miami shore
Vajpayee rolls back and forth
Fatwa full marks to Crorepati
Asim�s office fire fuels room rumour
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Nov. 9: 
Florida is turning out to be the Bihar of the United States in this presidential election with a barrage of allegations of irregularities throwing the outcome into a well of uncertainty.

Attorney-general Janet Reno said she would consider a request for investigation into the alleged voting irregularities as America and the two candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush, went into a second day of nerve-numbing wait for the result.

Both sides need the 25 electoral votes of Florida, the sunshine state famous for Miami, to make the majority mark of 270.

The victory arches and banners outside the Governor�s Mansion in Austin, Texas, and in front of the Gore campaign headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, have been taken down.

Although Florida Governor Jeb Bush, younger brother of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, said results of the recount in the state were expected by 5 pm Eastern Time on Thursday (3.30 am IST on Friday), the strange saga of the US presidential poll is unlikely to reach a final conclusion immediately.

Groups of voters in Florida�s Palm Beach County filed lawsuits demanding a repoll on the ground that ballot papers used in the county were confusing, and, therefore, violated election laws. Florida Democrats said ballot papers listed candidates on two facing pages of the ballot booklet in such a way that a vote meant for one candidate could actually go for the unintended one.

Their complaint stemmed from 3,400 votes polled in this Jewish stronghold for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, whose tally nationwide is less than one per cent. Jews have en masse supported the Democrats in this election since Joe Lieberman, the vice-presidential running mate of Gore is a Jew.

Buchanan himself said he believed most of the 3,407 votes he got in the county belonged to Gore and that people have voted for him by mistake. Buchanan also disputed 19,000 ballot papers that were nullified because people voted for both him and Gore. There were also allegations of ballot boxes missing or left behind in polling stations and black voters having been prevented from voting.

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) urged the attorney-general to investigate three types of complaints:

That black voters were turned away by election officials pleading ballot paper shortage; That they were given incorrect ballots; and That some voters were disenfranchised because their identity papers did not match poll records.

Some voters also complained that election officials distributed a voting guide published by a Christian coalition inside polling booths and told voters that �God wants you to vote for Bush�.

The allegations did not come as a surprise because Florida has a history of charges of election malpractices. Only three years ago, the mayor�s election in Miami was invalidated by charges of vote fraud.

Gore sent President Bill Clinton�s former secretary of state Warren Christopher to oversee the recount while Bush despatched his father�s secretary of state James Baker as his representative.

Even the recount was not going too well in at least one Florida county. In Pinellas County, a second round of recount had to be started because the first produced a 400-vote swing for Gore. The large swing was caused partly by the failure of election officials to count 400 ballots on poll night.

If the Pinellas recount holds in the second round, Bush�s lead over Gore would be reduced to 500 votes. Bush�s election night lead of 1,784 has already shrunk to 941 with about half of 67 Florida counties reporting recount results.

Both sides are now marshalling a battery of eminent lawyers to argue their respective cases, should the election battle go to court.

A Gore camp official told CNN the campaign had received information that �tens of thousands� of intended Gore votes had not been counted.

In a dramatic development, Governor Jeb Bush withdrew from the panel which has to clear the recount and formally declare the winner from Florida. Bush said his resignation was to ensure that there was no conflict of interest with his brother, the presidential aspirant.

But even without these controversies, which may be taken up, the final result may not be known until November 17, the deadline for counting absentee ballots from Florida voters. These will be counted only if the margin between Gore and Bush after the recount is less than the total number of absentee votes polled in the state.

Gore appeared briefly before reporters in Nashville and said: �We still do not know the outcome of yesterday�s vote and I realise that this is an extraordinary moment for our democracy. What is at issue here is the fundamental fairness of the process as a whole. Because of what is at stake, this matter must be resolved expeditiously, but deliberately and without any rush to judgement.�

Although Gore is now the clear winner of the popular vote across the US, he set at rest fears that the Democrats may challenge the electoral college where Bush may eventually secure the presidency.

�Under our constitution, it is the winner of the electoral college that will be the next President,� Gore said.

Bush said: �If the result is confirmed in an automatic recount, as we expect it will be, then we have won the election.�    

New Delhi, Nov. 9: 
The Prime Minister�s Office is in a fix. It has yet to decide on Mamata Banerjee�s demand for a cutback in the late September hike in oil prices, even though it realises the danger of procrastination.

On the one hand, yielding to her will go against the entire economic agenda of the Vajpayee government. On the other, political analysts are counselling the government that a sulking Mamata may become a major headache with Bengal polls less than six months away.

There was enough indication today that the Vajpayee administration realises that the postponement of a decision is being viewed as a sign of weakness.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik has stressed one aspect of the problem which Vajpayee is facing. He said in Mumbai that a rollback � some have suggested a diesel price cut of Re 1 and cooking gas of Rs 5-10 per cylinder � is inconceivable at this stage, given the price the government would have to pay for such a reconciliation. �It will put further pressure on the oil pool deficit,� the minister said.

But Naik was echoing the view of the votaries of economic prudence. Even within the Prime Minister�s Office, the economic experts are trying to convince Vajpayee not to agree to a rollback. They are saying that the government should at least wait for the next Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec)�s meeting slated for November 13. The US presidential poll impasse has further aggravated the problem since Washington has little time for anything else.

Political counsellors, especially those in touch with Mamata on behalf of the Prime Minister, believe that a further delay in meeting her demand would take the situation to a point of no return.

This section says the fact that Mamata has not thrown any tantrums yet is a sign of her expanding limit of goodwill towards this government.

�But she cannot be expected to be patient forever,� sources said.

They said the Prime Minister has already requested Mamata to be patient in a letter written to her on October 6 before leaving for Mumbai for his knee operation.

On the eve of the last Cabinet meeting, Vajpayee had called Mamata over and asked her to give him some more time. At the meeting, foreign minister Jaswant Singh had explained to her that the council of ministers could not take up this issue now because of other preoccupations. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha also urged her not to force the issue now.

The government�s expectation that Opec would raise output to bring down prices has been belied. The Vajpayee administration is now worried that it has overplayed the �waiting� card and must act now.

A divided PMO today indicated that the government would come out with a decision by early next week.    

New Delhi, Nov. 9: 
Television is proving to be a great leveller. Muslim clergy has issued a fatwa in favour of Kaun Banega Crorepati, Sawaal Dus Crore Ka and similar game shows that promise instant fortune to participants.

A large number of Muslim organisations and individuals had sought fatwas from Nadwa and Deoband theological schools asking whether participating in these programmes and earning money were halal (permissible) in accordance with sharia. And the answer is a unanimous �yes�. Muftis (jurists) and ulemas (scholars) have gone a step further admitting that they get glued to television sets when the programmes were aired.

Making a distinction from lotteries, jackpots and other forms of gambling that are prohibited under Islamic laws, the scholars said quiz programmes require knowledge and presence of mind. Thus, it is a test of one�s intellect, one�s dimaak.

�There is nothing wrong, illegal or distasteful about them,� said Maulana Salman Nadwi, a renowned Islamic scholar from Lucknow�s Nadwa school that is recognised and respected by Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries.

Deoband, another prominent seat of Islamic learning near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, endorsed the Nadwa school�s verdict, pointing out that these game shows were �productive, interesting� and aimed at enhancing one�s knowledge. The Deoband scholars feel that such programmes will motivate people to educate themselves and improve their general knowledge. They agree that luck did play a small role in the KBC or SDCK series but never to the extent of making �chance� the only factor. A person who has not done his homework can hardly expect to sail through a significant distance in either of the game shows.

KBC is particularly popular. Apart from the imposing presence of the Big B, the community is happy with the quality of questions selected for the programme. �There are several references to Islamic history, culture and religious matters that are factual and interesting. It helps others to know Islam better,� said Naim-ur-Rahman Siddiqui, a scholar from Nadwa. The fact that the game shows are not downplaying the country�s Islamic past is satisfaction enough for the scholars. Several of KBC questions centre around Islamic architecture and the Mughal period. The clergy�s response to quiz shows is significant as orthodox sections had viewed TV as an �evil� primarily responsible for the decline in moral standards.    

Calcutta, Nov. 9: 
An electrical fire damaged a large portion of finance minister Asim Dasgupta�s office in Writers� Buildings this afternoon.

The blaze is believed to have started from wires connected to a fax machine in the minister�s antechamber. Dasgupta was taking classes at Calcutta University at the time.

The fire added to the raging speculation about who would move into the deputy chief minister�s room vacated by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Many ministers are eyeing the vacant room next to the chief minister�s which was referred to as No. 2 in the pecking order, as Bhattacharjee was, during the last phase of Jyoti Basu�s tenure. Rumours are that land revenue minister Surya Kanta Mishra, who is expected to grow in importance in the coming days, may move into the �No. 2� chamber. The room could also be kept vacant for use by ministers whose offices are not in Writers� but have to visit the state secretariat regularly.

However, Dasgupta sought to put an end to speculation about he himself moving in by asking the PWD engineers to repair his damaged room by tomorrow. The fire destroyed several books, which Dasgupta said, was the �worst loss�, a few files, his computer and letterheads. No major files were lost in the blaze, he added.

The incident again brought into focus the dismal condition of the 19th century state secretariat, especially its electrical wiring.    



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