Revanth Reddy had pushed hard to get his men the Congress tickets.
The Congress will be Congress. That is why, even two days after crossing the magic figure in Telangana, they have not elected a Congress Legislature Party leader, who goes on to become Chief Minister. Nor could they proceed with an oath ceremony as planned at Raj Bhavan on Monday evening.
The red carpet had been laid. The chairs for the venue were wrapped in white. The sound systems and equipment were set up. Even the flowers had been ordered. It was all dismantled because the Congress displayed the marks of its "democratic DNA" and behaved as many expect it to behave.
On the face of it, throughout the campaign and the victory, it had seemed obvious that Telangana Congress chief Revanth Reddy was the leading man.
He was the face and voice of the campaign, buttressed by the support of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. It was not a stretch to assume that he would be chief minister, if not a front-runner, by a mile. However, it was never going to be that easy, considering the grand old party's long history of vocal leaders and aspirants. Those who have been with the party for years thought this is the time to collect, remind the leadership that they are the original warhorses.
There were voices of protest within, from Uttam Kumar Reddy to Bhatti Vikramarka, Komatireddy Venkat Reddy to Damodar Rajanarasimha. They reportedly opposed the outright candidature of Revanth Reddy.
These leaders allege Revanth Reddy floated the theory that he was the popular choice of the people and the MLAs, that compromise formulas had been worked out to make him chief minister and accommodate other senior leaders as deputy chief ministers or ministers with plum portfolios. They also pointed at Revanth Reddy's "inexperience" and the fact that he has always been in the opposition, never in the government.
Revanth Reddy is familiar with attacks from within. Even when he was made state Congress chief, some of his colleagues suggested he had paid crores for the post. This, when the Congress was a virtual write-off, not even in contention. Again, when candidates were being chosen, he was accused of "selling tickets".
Revanth Reddy had pushed hard to get his men picked as candidates. He knew only too well that if he did not have enough numbers, he wouldn't stand a chance within his own party. Now, his supporters point out that he has as many as 42 MLAs backing him, and that denying him the top job would stir trouble.
The Congress leadership arranged meetings with each of the party's 64 MLAs to glean the real picture. Separate meetings were also held with various leaders to try and work out a formula. Predictably, the decision was to leave the decision to the "high command".
61-year-old Uttam Kumar Reddy has always been with the Congress, has won seven elections, including as MP from Nalgonda. He was an Air Force fighter pilot and is known to be close to the Gandhi family, having been an associate of Rajiv Gandhi. He's "most qualified" to be chief minister, said a source close to him.
Former Congress Legislature Party chief Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, 63, belongs to the Mala group of the Dalit community. Vikramarka has been a three-time MLA, has served as deputy speaker and leader of opposition. He is the brother of Mallu Ravi who, however, has declared his support for Revanth Reddy. Bhatti Vikramarka went on a 1,400-kilometre march earlier this year, so he can claim to have campaigned for the party beyond his constituency.
Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, 58, says he is among the senior most in the party with some 35 years in politics. He has been a former minister, four-time MLA and MP, and delivered 11 of 12 assembly constituencies in his district of erstwhile Nalgonda.
Damodar Rajanarasimha, who turns 65 today, belongs to the dominant Madiga Scheduled Caste group. He has been a minister in the YS Rajasekhara Reddy cabinet and deputy Chief Minister in the Congress government led by Kiran Kumar Reddy. His family has been with the Congress over generations.
Even in 2004, before YS Rajasekhara Reddy became Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh after a 1,500-km padyatra that was seen to have largely catapulted the Congress to power, his ascent was challenged by then state Congress chief D Srinivas. The word from Delhi prevailed.