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While there seems to be little doubt that Karnataka will have a Congress government, what happens next is unclear
Obviously disillusioned by decade-long instability and mal-administration in Karnataka, voters stormed into polling booths in record numbers to vote with a vengeance earlier this week. The state registered a 70 per cent voter turnout in the assembly elections, the highest in three-and-a-half decades. That cannot be good news for the corrupt, inept and wobbly BJP government of the last five years.
The Congress is scenting a conquest, with the exit polls showing the party at about 110 seats, where it needs 113 seats to take it to a simple majority out of a total of 224. Party analysts are now confidently forecasting a larger triumph with around 130 seats. While there seems to be little doubt that Karnataka will have a Congress government, what happens next is a bit blurry.
If it does make it comfortably past the halfway mark, the victorious Congress will have to get to the next hurdle: choosing a chief minister. Two Congress leaders who have openly declared themselves to be aspirants are leader of opposition Siddaramaiah, who belongs to the backward Kuruba community, and G. Parameshwar, Karnataka Congress chief, who is a Dalit leader. The former seems to be the favourite amongst partymen.
Meanwhile, in Delhi, two Union ministers are equally strong chief ministerial contenders, despite being in the shadows. Mallikarjun Kharge, a 10-time election winner and current labour minister, is looking to make a comeback to his home state and so is his colleague, Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily. The question, however, is whether the Congress party in Delhi can spare any efficient, able Central ministers at this point in its scam- and controversy-ridden tenure.
Some partymen are saying that choosing a chief minister might turn out to be a bigger challenge for the Congress than winning the assembly election. A few local strongmen wish to see a ballot in the Congress Legislature Party to pick a chief minister. A secret ballot could accentuate local divisions but it has been done before, and could boost Siddaramaiah's chances. Some see Siddaramaiah as an able administrator and an independent-thinking, strong leader who speaks his mind. This particular characteristic is worrying top leaders in Delhi. That may, again, lead to a slip between the proverbial cup and lip for Siddaramaiah, and lead to Delhi picking from the other aspirants, increasing Parameshwar's chances dramatically, followed by those of Moily and Kharge. Whoever is chosen chief minister, a lot of heartburn is guaranteed.
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