Bengaluru: All eyes were on Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala on Tuesday after hotly-contested elections threw up a hung Assembly, forcing the BJP and a hurriedly stitched alliance of the Congress and the JD-S to stake claim to form a government.
The BJP, which appeared confident of returning to power in its only southern bastion, emerged as the single largest party but failed to cross the half-way mark in the 224-member Assembly where two constituencies didn't vote on Saturday.
The Election Commission data showed that the BJP could end up with 104 seats -- eight short of simple majority.
The Congress appeared to have learnt from its mistakes in Manipur and Goa where it, despite emerging as the single largest party in both states, reacted late and gave the BJP enough time to cobble together an alliance with smaller parties to form governments there.
This time, the Congress, set to win 78 seats, sprung a surprise and quickly announced its support to the Janata Dal-Secular which finished third with 37 seats in a bid to keep the BJP away from forming a government.
Congress General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media in the company of outgoing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah that the JD-S and the Congress "will meet the Governor and stake claim (to form a government)".
Led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the JD-S quickly accepted the offer and wrote to the Governor staking claim to power.
Both JD-S leader and former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah of Congress then met the Governor and staked the claim to form a government.
"I have accepted the support extended by the Congress to form the government," Kumaraswamy said.
That happened after BJP leader and its Chief Ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa met and urged the Governor to let him prove his majority support in the Karnataka Assembly. He was accompanied by Union Minister Ananth Kumar.
The ball now lies in the Governor's court. According to usual practice, the Governor calls the leader of the single largest party or pre-poll alliance to form the government.
In the case of a hung Assembly, the leader is asked to prove the majority on the floor of the House within a stipulated time.
In Karnataka, the Congress and JD-S did not have a pre-poll alliance. However, it is for the Governor to take a call on who to invite first.
The dramatic turn of events that saw BJP's jubilations swinging up and down throughout the day spoiled its hopes to form its own government in Karntaka -- its gateway to the south.
According to party sources, three senior ministers -- Dhamendra Pradhan, Prakash Javadekar and J.P. Nadda -- have been rushed to Karnataka to strategise with the local leadership.
Mocking at the "desperation of a defeated Congress" to support the JD-S to form a coalition government to keep the BJP out of power, BJP spokesman Shantaram said his party was open to an alliance with the JD-S or seek its support to form the new government.
"We are open to JD-S support, if need be, after all the results are declared. Our approach to JD-S will depend on the number of legislators we need to prove majority in the house or win the confidence motion," he said.
BJP activists and leaders earlier celebrated noisily in both Bengaluru and New Delhi, waving party flags and shouting slogans hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their main vote-getter, and Amit Shah.
Expectations of a BJP victory in Karnataka lifted the key Indian equity indices during the mid-morning trade session on Tuesday. But the markets later went into the red.