As the speculation within the ruling BJP circles persists over whether B S Yediyurappa's exit as the Karnataka Chief Minister is on the cards, talks in the party around his possible successor have been gaining momentum with the guessing game in full swing.
Yediyurappa, who is completing two years in office on July 26, had dismissed reports in some quarters that the party's central leadership is actively mulling to replace him.
Several names are doing the rounds as a possible replacement for the 78-year old Lingayat strongman.
Though there is a long list of aspirants for the post, the challenge before the party will be to find a suitable replacement who can fill Yediyurappa's "big" shoes, a BJP functionary said.
It is said that the BJP is hoping to bring in a generational shift in the state's leadership, and smooth transition of power but finding a replacement for the "undisputed mass leader" of the party in the State is never going to be easy.
The BJP will also have to strike some kind of a balance while effecting this leadership change, as it will have to see to it that the move does not antagonise its core vote base, the dominant Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, over which Yediyurappa wields considerable influence.
The Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, which is estimated to form about 16 per cent of the state's population, is considered to be the BJPs core support base in the state, and is reportedly largely opposed to Yediyurappa''s removal.
There are some reports that the party may name a surprise candidate for the Chief Minister post as they have experimented in other states.
Among the names doing the rounds as the probable successor to Yediyurappa are that of Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, BJP national General Secretary C T Ravi, and the party's national organising secretary B L Santhosh.
While Joshi and Santosh are Brahmins; Ravi, who is MLA from Chikkamagaluru, is a Vokkaliga, another dominant community in the state, mostly concentrated in Southern Karnataka, where the party is trying to make inroads.
Another Brahmin name that is being talked about is Assembly speaker Vishveshwar Hegde Kageri.
There has been no Brahmin Chief Minister in the state since 1988, after Ramakrishna Hegde.
Indicating that there may be a "surprise pick", Yediyurappa's bete noire and senior MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who has been openly criticising the Chief Minister and seeking for his ouster, had recently said that the Prime Minister would choose an honest leader with Hindutva ideology for the post of CM, who can ensure victory for BJP in the next election.
If the party looks for replacing Yediyurappa with another leader from the dominant Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, the probable names that are doing rounds include, Mining Minister Murugesh Nirani and MLA Arvind Bellad.
While Nirani is a businessman-politician, whose repeated Delhi visits recently have raised eyebrows in the party circles; Bellad is an MLA from Hubli-Dharwad West Assembly constituency, who is said to be among the disgruntled legislators seeking Yediyurappa's ouster.
Bellad had recently alleged that his phone was being tapped and attempts were on to fix him in some case.
Though Yatnal's name was also doing rounds for the CM post from the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, his repeated statements embarrassing the party and the government may go against him.
Yatnal himself had recently clarified that he was not in the race to become CM.
Among the current Ministers in the state government, the names of Home Minister Basavaraj S Bommai (Lingayat), Revenue Minister R Ashoka and Deputy CM, C N Ashwath Narayan (Vokkaligas), have also been doing the rounds.
Another Lingayat leader from north Karnataka -- Industries Minister Jagadish Shettar, who has earlier served as the Chief Minister -- is also seen as a contender.