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BENGALURU: The BJP emerged as the single largest party today but fell 9 seats short of a majority in Karnataka where the Congress dramatically backed third-placed rival JD(S) for a post-poll alliance to keep the saffron party out of power.
All eyes are now on Governor Vajubhai Vala who will have to decide whether to call BJP to try to form the government or go with the JD(S)-Congress combine, which together have a clear majority in the 224-member Assembly.
Elections were held for 222 seats on May 12 while polling for the remaining two will be held later.
Both sides rushed to meet Vala, their vehicles slowly cutting through the throngs of party workers and supporters assembled outside the Raj Bhavan gates, and staked claim to power.
Addressing BJP workers in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who undertook a vigorous campaign, hailed the party's win in Karnataka as "unparalleled and unprecedented".
The BJP bagged 104 seats, a gain of 64 , while the Congress notched 78, a loss of 44 seats, though its vote share was nearly two percentage points more than the saffron party.
The JD(S) secured 37 seats, down by three from its previous tally.
In a roller-coaster ride for BJP, it initially appeared that the party was set to return to power after a five-year hiatus with a resounding majority.
But at the end of counting of votes it came tantalisingly close to 113 needed to form the government.
"We had to be ready for any eventuality. So when there was a window, we chipped in," Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told India Today TV.
"When the JD(S) and the Congress numbers swelled up, that was the time we felt we can make it."
Azad's comments summed up the breathtaking daylong developments in an election seen as a bellwether for the 2019 general elections at a time when the saffron wave is sweeping the country.
Karnataka was the only major non-BJP ruled state, and the party offices had reverberated with jubilation in the morning when initial trends put it ahead.
Several BJP and Congress leaders rushed to Bengaluru from the national capital.
The swift political manoeuvring by Congress in reaching out to JD(S) showed that it had learnt its lesson after the debacle in Manipur and Goa where it failed to form the government despite being the single largest party because of BJP's shrewd moves.
"We have all together discussed and decided this. This is the opinion of the All India Congress party.
Congress will support JD(S) because there is a hung Assembly situation here as no party has been given clear majority by the people," outgoing Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told reporters after submitting his resignation.
Congress Leaders Siddaramaiah, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjuna Kharge along with JD(S) state Chief H D Kumaraswamy met Vala and submitted a letter seeking an opportunity to form the government.
"All India Congress party leaders after discussion have given a letter to our party president extending support on behalf our party, along with Congress leaders we have asked governor seeking an opportunity to form the government with the support of Congress, also two independent MLAs," Kumaraswamy, the alliance's chief ministerial candidate, said.
Soon after Congress declared its support to JD(S), Kumaraswamy wrote to the governor informing him that he had accepted the offer to be the chief minister KPCC chief G Parameshwara said modalities related to government formation would be discussed later.
However, BJP's chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa accused Congress of trying to grab power unfairly.
Yeddyurappa met the Governor and staked claim to form the government, slamming the move of the Congress-JDS combine as an attempt to come back to power through back door.
"BJP has emerged as the single largest party, we have requested the governor to give us an opportunity to prove our majority on the floor of the assembly," Yeddyurappa told reporters after meeting Vala along with Union minister Ananth Kumar.
A sombre-looking Yeddyurappa said the people of Karnataka had rejected the Siddaramaiah government "lock, stock and barrel".
The usual practice is for the governor to call the leader of the single largest party or pre-poll alliance to form the government, and in the event of a hung Assembly, asks him to prove the majority on the floor of the House.
Since the Congress and JD(S) did not have a pre-poll alliance, it remains to be seen if he invites Kumaraswamy to form the government.
At least 10 ministers fell by the wayside as they lost their seats in an anti-incumbency wave.
Siddaramaiah himself lost by a huge margin of 36,042 votes in his traditional constituency of Chamundeshwari in Mysuru to JDS' G T Deve Gowda.
He, however, managed to scrape through in Badami in north Karnataka, where he won by a slender margin of 1,696 votes after a see-saw battle against BJP's B Sriramulu, a close associate of the mining baron Reddy brothers.
Yeddyurappa won the Shikaripura seat by a margin of over 35,000 votes while Kumaraswamy won convincingly in both Channapatna and Ramanagara.
After a record 72.13 per cent voter turnout, the Election Commission announced that the Congress notched 38 per cent of votes as against BJP's 36.2 per cent.
JD(S), headed by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, got 18.4 per cent votes.