A day before the counting of votes for the Karnataka assembly elections, which most exit polls say the Congress will win, frenzied speculation has begun over the top candidate for the chief minister's post.
While backward community leader Siddaramaiah and Union labour minister Mallikarjun
Kharge are being tipped as the frontrunners for the top post, state Congress chief G Parameshwara and former minister DK Shivakumar also seem to fancy their chances.
The names of Union petroleum and natural gas minister Veerappa Moily, Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes and former external affairs minister SM Krishna are also doing the rounds for the hot seat.
Sources in the Congress said the party central leadership would have the final say on the choice of CM, who would be expected to provide a clean and stable government as well as lead the charge in Karnataka for the Lok Sabha elections.
Siddaramaiah, who had expressed his willingness to occupy the CM seat if the party top leadership so desired, said he was confident the Congress would get a minimum of 120 seats in the 225-member assembly.
Asked on Tuesday if he was in the race for the CM post, Siddaramaiah replied, "I don't want to comment on that. The party high command and the elected MLAs will take the final decision."
Kharge too did not comment on his chances of becoming the CM.
Parameshwara, however, was more forthcoming.
"There are about 10 aspirants in the party for the top post. Conventionally, the CM post goes to the state Congress president, but I will abide by the high command's decision," he said.
Shivakumar is even more upfront.
"I have been an MLA five times and will be elected for the sixth time too, with a huge margin. I am a senior leader and very much in the race for the CM post. And why not? I am not a saint," he told mediapersons recently.
However, a senior party leader said the names of Siddaramaiah and Kharge had figured prominently for the CM post in recent meetings of the party's central leadership.
Meanwhile, the intelligence bureau has indicated 100 seats for the Congress, 50 for BJP, 38 for Janata Dal (Secular), 18 for former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa's Karnataka Janata Paksha and 10 for independents.
Under this projected scenario, the Congress may have to look for support from independents, the KJP or the JD(S) to form the government.
* The counting will take place at 35 centres across the state from 8am
* The complete results are expected by 11am
* The elections on Sunday saw a high turnout of more than 71%
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