Bangalore: With the Congress walking away with a thumping victory in Karnataka, the question of "who will become chief minister" is now the hot topic of debate. And staking his claim already for the top post is senior party leader K. Siddaramaiah.
"I am one of the strong contenders," said the five-time MLA from Varuna in south Karnataka. But the leader, hailing from the Kuruba community, a backward caste, also added that the final call rests with the party high command.
Karnataka, so far, has seen its political fate being decided by the powerful Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities.
But Mr Siddaramaiah's backward caste credentials face a stiff challenge from Union Minister Mallikarjun Kharge who has also thrown his hat in the ring.
"If the high command thinks I am capable of chief ministership, it is their choice... am willing to be the chief minister," Mr Kharge said today.
The minister, a Dalit who represents the Gulbarga region in north Karnataka, has a formidable record - he has won nine straight times from that area and is the lone leader to have never lost in the region. But he has often been overlooked by the party in the power hierarchy.
But the party's excellent performance in north Karnataka may shift the balance of power in favour of Mr Kharge.
State Congress chief G Parameshwara, who was earlier touted to be in the running for the chief minister's post, is unlikely to make the cut, having lost from his constituency.
Besides the big names, there are other hopefuls like RV Deshpande who has called his party's attention to the many years he has been in active politics.