After bagging a massive victory in Karnataka by winning 135 seats in the 224-member Assembly, the Congress is deciding on the new chief minister of the state on Sunday, 14 May.
A total of 113 seats were required for an absolute majority in the House.
Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the outgoing Assembly Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president DK Shivakumar are strong claimants and frontrunners for the post.
The newly-elected Congress MLAs in Karnataka are meeting in Bengaluru on Sunday evening to discuss government formation with leaders eliciting their views on the chief ministerial candidate.
BJP wins 66, JD(S) 19
In the 10 May elections to Assembly, the BJP and the former prime minister HD Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) secured 66 and 19, respectively.
Out of the remaining four seats, regional parties won two and the other two by independent candidates.
The state registered its highest-ever voter turnout of 73.3 percent. The counting was held on Saturday.
The saffron party went down a few dozen seats from its tally in the 2018 Assembly elections.
Meanwhile, the Bengaluru urban region witnessed a tight fight between the Congress and the BJP with the latter winning 16 out of the 28 Assembly segments. The Congress bagged the remaining 12 seats.
The Jayanagar constituency there witnessed four rounds of recounts.
The Congress candidate, sitting MLA Soumya Reddy, was initially said to have defeated the BJP’s CK Ramamurthy by a slender margin of 160 votes.
However, the BJP candidate and his supporters sought a recount amidst the high drama, and the ECI again declared Reddy the winner with a higher margin of 294 votes. But after yet another late-night recount, he was eventually declared the winner.
In the last recount, Ramamurthy bagged 57,797 votes while Soumya Reddy got 57,781 votes: A difference of just 16 votes.
CLP meeting at Bengaluru
The Congress legislature party (CLP) meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 pm on Sunday, and the newly elected have already been instructed to come to Bengaluru.
According to sources, the CLP meeting will be held at a private hotel.
Both the eight-time MLA Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah have made no secret of their ambition to become CM and had been involved in a game of political one-upmanship in the past.
The Congress had entered the campaign phase with the challenge of keeping at bay the factionalism, especially between the camps of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar, who had been openly rooting for their leaders, but the party put a united front and ensured that no rift came out in open and derail its prospects, under the mentorship of AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge.
Now the task at hand for the AICC leadership is to complete the process of electing the legislature party leader by taking all factions together.
People rallying for both
Banners have come up in front of Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar’s residences in Bengaluru, erected by supporters, congratulating them for Congress win and projecting them as the “next CM”.
While the 60-year-old Shivakumar is considered to be a “troubleshooter” for the Congress party, Siddaramaiah has a pan-Karnataka appeal.
If Siddaramaiah, who joined Congress after being expelled from JD(S), gets elected as the CLP leader, this will be his second stint as the chief minister from the party after having occupied the coveted post for five years between 2013-18. Shivakumar had served as Minister in Siddaramaiah’s cabinet.
According to party sources, the opinion of newly elected legislators will be sought and depending on the outcome, they might be asked to vote to elect their leader, if the need arises.
Shivakumar expressed desire
Shivakumar has been openly expressing his chief ministerial aspirations at various events, especially the ones connected with Vokkaligas. He had asked the dominant community, to which he belongs, not to lose out on an opportunity with him as the KPCC president while pointing out that SM Krishna was the last Vokkaliga to lead the party in the polls and then went on to become the chief minister in 1999.
In fact in this election, the Congress has significantly improved its electoral performance in the Vokkaliga-dominated Old Mysuru region (south Karnataka) and that credit largely goes to Shivakumar.
Also, there have been instances in the party that whoever has successfully led as KPCC president in the election, has been the natural choice to be the chief minister, like in the case of Krishna and Veerendra Patil.
Will experience help Siddaramaiah?
Siddaramaiah, who has seniority on his side, is known for able administrative skills and has the experience of having run a successful tenure as the chief minister. He also enjoys the distinction of having presented 13 budgets for the state.
Being a mass leader, he has considerable clout among the AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits). The mega 75th birthday bash of Siddaramaiah held last year in Davanagere, was largely seen as an attempt by him and his loyalists to project him as the future chief minister.
Seventy-five-year-old Siddaramaiah who has already announced that this was his last election, has been maintaining that the chief minister will be elected by the newly elected MLAs in consultation with the party high command.
There are also other contenders for the post like former deputy chief minister and ex-KPCC president G Parameshwara and veteran leader and seven-time MP KH Muniyappa — both Dalits and M B Patil — a Lingayat.
Biggest victory in over 30 years
With its collective leadership under two regional stalwarts, Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar — and led by son-of-the-soil and AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge — the Congress focus on local- and issue-based campaigns designed by its strategist Sunil Kanugolu and implemented by its war-room headed by former IAS officer Sasikant Senthil, helped it break an over 30-year record.
Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 is the biggest victory the Congress has seen in terms of vote share and the number of seats in the state since 1989 when it won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.7 percent.
On Saturday, the party started with big leads and maintained them until the election was pretty much sealed.
While Congress in 1999 won 132 seats, its vote share was set at 40.8 percent. On Saturday, with wins and leads in 136 seats, Congress had clocked a vote share of 43.2 percent.
(With PTI inputs)