NEW DELHI - Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader B.S. Yedyurappa has assumed office as the new Chief Minister of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, even though his party came up short of a majority in a recently concluded election.
Mr Yeddyurappa was sworn in on Thursday morning (May 17) in the state capital and Indian technology hub of Bengaluru after the Indian Supreme Court, in a rare overnight hearing, refused to block his swearing-in ceremony.
The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) parties had petitioned the top court, claiming they together have the numbers necessary to form the new government as an alliance and should be invited first instead.
While giving Mr Yedyurappa - who is from the same party as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - the go-ahead, the court order, however, clarified that his appointment will be subject to the final outcome of the case. The hearing in the case will resume on Friday.
The BJP currently has 105 lawmakers, including an independent member, in the 224-seat assembly, which means it is seven short of a majority.
Voted out of power in the state, the Congress has 78 seats, while regional party Janata Dal (Secular) holds 37 seats.
This gives their newly formed alliance 115 seats, three more than the halfway mark.
Elections in Karnataka were held on May 12 and the results were announced three days later.
The Congress has offered unconditional support to a government headed by JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy.
Mr Yedyurappa was given 15 days to prove his majority by Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala on Wednesday evening. Mr Vala was appointed to his post by the federal BJP government in September 2014 .
This move has elicited harsh criticism from Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who described it as a "Mockery of our Constitution" in a tweet this morning.
"The BJP's irrational insistence that it will form a Govt. in Karnataka, even though it clearly doesn't have the numbers, is to make a mockery of our Constitution. This morning, while the BJP celebrates its hollow victory, India will mourn the defeat of democracy," Mr Gandhi tweeted.
Congress leaders were seen protesting outside the state assembly in Bengaluru on Thursday morning.
In his first remarks as Chief Minister, Mr Yeddyurappa said, "Despite being rejected by the people, Congress and JD(S) have formed an unholy alliance. People will not accept this."
He also said he was confident of winning the floor test. "I am sure MLAs will vote according to (their) conscience," he added.
Analysts say the BJP will now try to win over rebels in the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) to give it a majority, which raises the spectre of horse-trading that largely relies on money power.
A busload of Congress lawmakers were moved to a private resort near Bengaluru on Wednesday evening to prevent them from being poached by the BJP.
Losing power in Karnataka will be a major blow to the Congress ahead of 2019 general elections.
It currently governs two of India's 29 states and a union territory (Puducherry).
The BJP and its allies are in power in 21 states and have been keen to expand their national footprint into the southern parts of the country.
The move by the BJP in Karnataka is in direct contrast to its approach in Meghalaya, which went to polls in March this year and threw up a similar hung assembly situation.
There, the BJP, with just two seats, outwitted the Congress, which had emerged as the single largest party.
The BJP managed to amass the numbers necessary to form a coalition government in Meghalaya by tying up with a regional party.