Bangalore: The Congress, set to return to power in Karnataka after seven years, now faces the big battle of selecting the Chief Minister from amongst several aspirants for the post.

As typical of Congress leaders, most aspirants say the decision has been left to the "high command" -- a party euphemism for President Sonia Gandhi -- and they will abide by it. The state political scene will shift to New Delhi, possibly starting Thursday, as hordes of Congress winners and their supporters will be there to lobby for ministerial berths as well.

The leading contenders for the Chief Minister's post include Siddaramaiah, leader of the opposition in the outgoing assembly, and Mallikharjun Kharge, the Union Labour and Employment Minister. Another name doing the rounds is Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily. State Congress chief G Parameshwara was a contender but he is out of the race as he lost the Koratagere seat in Tumkur district.

"I am one of the strong contenders," Siddaramiah declared on Wednesday as counting of votes showed his party was all set to return to power. Siddaramaiah, 64, represents Varuna seat in Mysore district. He is a backward class leader belonging to the Kuruba (shepherd) community. He was in the Janata Dal-Secular but joined the Congress in 2006 after differences with party President HD Deve Gowda over the promotion of his sons in the organisation.

Kharge, 70, is now the tallest Dalit leader in the Congress in the state. He has a reputation of winning nine assembly polls consecutively. He reluctantly gave up the assembly seat in 2009 to contest the Lok Sabha election from Gulbarga in north Karnataka. "I don't want the post because of my caste. If they (the high command) think that I am fit for the post, then it is up to them to decide. I will abide by it,” he said in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Moily, 73, was the Karnataka Chief Minister in 1992-94. He has been a Central Minister, has written several books in Kannada. He is from coastal Karnataka and belongs to the Devadiga community, who were traditionally temple musicians. He represents Chikkaballapur in the Lok Sabha.


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