A day after the polls produced a hung assembly in Karnataka, it was clear the H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) would field its candidate for the post of chief minister.But before taking any decision, the party will bargain hard for a role at the Centre. The JD (S) will evolve its strategy in the state, keeping in mind the coalition taking shape at the Centre.
The Congress' ability to offer something to the JD(S) at the Centre is likely to add to its reasons for joining the Congress and not the Bharatiya Janata Party to form a government in Karnataka.
According to current reckoning, the first name to come up will be of the party's working president Siddaramaiah, who has an unmatched record of loyalty to Deve Gowda.
When he took over as the prime minister, he left Karnataka in the hands of his trusted lieutenant -- making him the deputy chief minister with additional charge of finance and labour under the then chief minister J H Patel.
Siddaramaiah is known for his clean image as also his brusque manner. The clean image is becoming tactically important as it is dawning on political observers that what did S M Krishna in was not so much the drought but the corruption and inefficiency in the implementation of drought relief measures which had been left in the hands of local MLAs.
B R Patil, JD(S) vice-president, also announced the preference of Siddaramaiah as chief minister, if the party decides to field its candidate for the post.
Before the election, Deve Gowda has gone on record stating that Siddaramaiah will be the chief ministerial candidate if the JD-S came to power. Many believe it is precisely this promise that has added to his acceptability.
The only other JD-S probables for the top post are P G R Scindhia who won from the Kanakpura assembly constituency and M P Prakash (JD-S) who has won with a huge margin from Hadagali. Both men are hierarchically junior to Siddaramaiah in the party.
According to the final tally, the JD-S secured 58 seats in the state assembly, while the Congress bagged 65.
The BJP has won 79 seats and emerged as the single largest party in the 224-member house, while its ally, the Janata Dal-United, has secured 5 seats.
The Vatal Paksha, CPI-M, Republican Party of India and the Kannada Nadu Party have won one seat each. Independents have bagged 13 seats.
If the JD-S fields Siddaramaiah as the candidate for chief minister, the Congress is likely to push its candidate for the post of deputy chief minister.
"We do not want to burden the people with another election in the state soon. We will do everything to provide a stable, secular, pro-farmer and pro-poor government in Karnataka," Deve Gowda said.
The voting population in most of the assembly seats won by the JD-S in south Karnataka belongs to the Other Backward Castes. Siddaramaiah is an OBC and the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities may not hesitate in accepting him as leader.
The JD-S legislature party has said the party's Political Affairs Committee will meet in Delhi on Saturday to discuss all issues arising out of the poll verdict at the state and the Centre.
"We are keeping all options open. I have called for a meeting of the legislature party this Sunday on how we go about forming the next government in Karnataka. Though the party has not secured enough numbers to form the government on its own, the mandate is clearly against the Congress. As we do not want another early election in the state in the near future, we are exploring all possibilities to form a secular government soon with our credentials intact," Deve Gowda has said.
Asked whether the party would be willing to secure Congress support to prevent the BJP from staking a claim to power, Deve Gowda said it was for the party's PAC and the elected legislators to decide on the issue.
Deve Gowda has not forgotten his tryst with the Congress. In March-April 1997, the Congress withdrew support to then prime minister Deve Gowda, toppling his government.