Suspense remained on Bharatiya Janata Party's chief ministerial pick in Uttar Pradesh as newly-elected MLAs were all set to meet in Lucknow on Saturday to elect the leader, with Union Minister Manoj Sinha among the frontrunners.
"The new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh along with his Cabinet colleagues would take oath on March 19 at 5.00 PM at Kanshiram Smriti Upvan," Governor Ram Naik said in a statement in Lucknow.
State BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said that the legislature party meeting will be held on Saturday at Lok Bhavan -- the newly constructed chief minster's office located adjacent to the UP BJP office.
Central observers -- Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav -- will remain present at the meeting to elect the chief minister.
Besides Sinha, Home Minister and former state chief minister Rajnath Singh and state party chief Keshav Prasad Maurya are being projected as strong nominees for the post by their partymen.
All these leaders in their interactions with the media have played down their chances with Sinha turning poetic on Friday, citing a verse which translates as 'desires are treacherous, and change once fulfilled'.
"Naa mujhe kisi race kaa pata hai, naa main kisi race main hun (neither do I know about any race, nor am I in any race)," Sinha told reporters outside Parliament when asked if he was in the race to become the chief minister of the country's politically most important state.
Maurya, who was discharged following his hospitalisation on Thursday after he complained of uneasiness, is seen as a favourite if the party opts for an OBC face.
He parried questions and said that the state legislature party will decide on the chief minister on Saturday.
"Legislature party will decide who will be the chief minister. The oath taking ceremony will be on March 19 and all national leaders of the party will attend the ceremony," he told reporters.
"If the name of the new chief minister is revealed before the meeting of the newly-elected MLAs, then the relevance and sanctity of the meeting would be lost," he said.
The home minister, several leaders said, is a natural contender due to his profile and vast administrative experience.
With the BJP leadership often springing a surprise with its choice of state leaders like Manohar Lal Khattar and Vijay Rupani, both of whom were not among the favourites to lead governments in Haryana and Gujarat, sources said a relatively lesser known leader cannot be ruled out.
The central observers will most likely inform the MLAs about the BJP top brass' choice which will be subsequently endorsed at the meeting on Saturday.
UP government officials said that they have started preparations for the swearing-in ceremony. Kanshiram Smriti Upvan is being decked up for the event which is likely to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and other top party leaders.
BJP vice-president Om Mathur, Maurya and senior party leaders are also likely to attend Saturday's meeting.
"The name of the new Uttar Pradesh chief minister will be known tomorrow at 4.00 pm," Maurya said.
With various pros and cons weighing heavily on mind, BJP top brass has taken its time to decide on the UP chief minister after results were decalred on March 11. The party bagged 325 seats along with its allies in the 403-member House.
The sources said that the party is extra cautious as it is returning to power in Uttar Pradesh after a 15-year hiatus. Moreover, in view of Lok Sabha election in 2019, the BJP cannot afford to take any wrong decision, said some party insiders when asked about the delay in declaring the CM's name.
After a stupendous win in the assembly election, the party can ill afford to lower its guard for 2019. Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to Lok Sabha and is extremely important in the BJP's scheme of things.
Party insiders said that the overwhelming mandate has posed a fresh challenge for the BJP to meet sky-high expectations.
"The preparations for the swearing-in ceremony is going on and I have visited the spot to oversee it," BJP state general secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak said.
People from all over the state and special invitees, whose list is yet to be finalised, are expected to take part in the ceremony.
In the recently-concluded Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the BJP secured 312 seats, while its allies Apna Dal-Soneylal and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party got nine and four seats respectively. The Samajwadi Party bagged 47 seats, while its ally the Congress stooped to one of its lowest tallies with seven seats.
Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party could manage to get only 19 seats in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative assembly.