Dehra Dun: After a hung verdict, both Congress and BJP have staked claim to form the government in Uttarakhand. Both the parties have called their wining candidates to capital Dehra Dun for the legislative party meeting today. The Congress has emerged as the single largest party in the state with 32 seats, ahead of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by a notch in the 70-member Uttarakhand assembly.
The Congress leaders in Uttarakhand met senior leaders in Delhi to discuss strategy. These leaders, led by Vijay Bahuguna, flew back to Dehra Dun to stake claim with 38 MLAs. These leaders had met the Governor late night but BJP is also not ready to leave the claim.
"We should be invited to form the government and asked to prove majority on the floor of the House where we should be able to prove majority," said BC Khanduri, the incumbent Chief Minister.
But the real power lies with four independent MLAs - Dinesh Dhanai from Tehri, Harish Durgapal from Lalkuwa, Mantri Prasad Naithani, an independent MLA from Deoprayag, and Pritam Singh Panwar, from the Uttrakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) - who are now much in demand.
The first three are ex-Congress MLAs who had quit this year when denied tickets by the party. The UKD had supported the BJP government in 2007, but subsequently split before this election. It too can play a crucial role.
And then there is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Though routed in the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, it holds the key to the government formation in the hill state where it bagged three seats, losing four from its 2007 tally of seven.
The BJP got 31, three down from last time, while others, including independents, together won four seats. Their support along with the BSP will decide who will lead the next government in the state.
"I would like to have more numbers, at least 37. We will speak to them and see what they want and if they can be accommodated," said Mr Khanduri.
The major setback for the ruling BJP was the loss of Mr Khanduri, who had led the poll campaign with a slogan of "Khanduri hain zaroori". He was defeated by Congress' SS Negi in Kotdwar constituency by over 4,500 votes.
A retired Army officer, Mr Khanduri was re-appointed chief minister of Uttarakhand last September following corruption charges against his predecessor Ramesh Pokhriyal. A known Khanduri bete noire, Mr Pokhriyal, however, won from the Doiwala constituency defeating Congress' Heera Singh Bisht by 1,272 votes.
Meanwhile, the Congress too expressed confidence that they would form the new government.
"The Congress is forming the party on its own, or with a little support," said Vijay Bahuguna, Congress MP from Tehri who yesterday staked claim to form the next government in the state. The Governor is yet to take a decision.
Yesterday, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi had said that "there are some undecided people", indicating that his party would be talking to smaller parties to seek their support.
Mr Khanduri's magic may not have won him his seat, but has kept the BJP in the game. While the Congress met the Governor to assert their position, a lot will depend on which party manages to persuade the remaining MLAs to shore up their numbers.