THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Imagine trying to make sense of a cliffhanger of a boxing match just by watching the score board. Thiruvananthapuram offered all and sundry that opportunity on Friday, with Congress’s Shashi Tharoor and BJP’s O Rajagopal locked in a fierce one-on-one battle as the counting of votes progressed at Mar Ivanios Vidya Nagar.
It had started peacefully enough. Half-an-hour into the counting, Tharoor was leading with 4,540 votes against Rajagopal’s 3,980. CPI’s Bennet Abraham was trailing a close third with 3,780. A few minutes later, Tharoor crossed the 10,000-mark with Rajagopal snapping hard at his heels.
The trend started changing by 8.50 am when a little over 10 per cent of the votes had been counted. Tharoor, who was leading by 530 votes, fell back by 95 votes, giving the BJP veteran the upper hand for the first time.
For the next several hours, Rajagopal’s lead would grow steadily, prompting one news channel to declare that the ever-reluctant lotus had finally bloomed in Kerala.
Later events proved that to be a premature announcement, but to be fair, at the time Rajagopal had indeed appeared to be on solid ground. When 25 per cent of the votes were counted and done, he was leading by 5,600 votes and had crossed the 75,000-vote mark.
By 9.40 am, Rajagopal crossed the one lakh-mark, with Tharoor trailing at 91,550. By 10.15 am, 50 per cent of the votes had been counted and Rajagopal still led. In a few minutes, his lead had risen to over 14,000 votes and some 40 per cent of the votes still waited in the EVMs. That was when the tide started turning. Rajagopal’s lead first slipped below the 10,000-mark when 68 per cent of the votes had been counted. The lead steadily dipped to three-digit figures and soon Tharoor wrested the lead. After that, Rajagopal managed to grab it back only once - a hair-thin lead of 48 - and that too, only for a few seconds. When Tharoor’s lead had grown to just over 7,000 votes, the Election Department threw in a surprise, an ‘interval.’ The officials decided that the rest of the EVM votes need be counted only after the postal ballots were done with. This prompted Tharoor to tweet: “Leading by 7,000 votes but process interrupted for counting of postal ballots. We just have to await the voters’ verdict. Not speaking till then.”
By then, less than seven per cent of the votes remained to be counted.
Interestingly, never once did CPI’s Bennet Abraham figure in the first two positions since the counting started at 8 am. The man who was even touted to grab a surprise victory was always locked in third place.
“I respect the people’s decision. I am relatively new to this field, so it is better for the party to comment on my performance. I will always remain with the party,” he later told ‘Express’.
If anybody was expecting surprises when the counting re-started in the afternoon, they were disappointed. Tharoor’s lead rose steadily and his final margin stood at 15,470. “We expected a win in Thiruvananthapuram, but could not make it,” BJP state president V Muralidharan summed it up.