Festoons and glitters scattered on the road... strewn alongside were empty ice cream cups reminding of a good time out… floating around in the gentle breeze from the nearby backwaters were the remnants of burst crackers and balloons… Visitors could easily mistake the Park Avenue Lane passing in front of Maharaja’s College, one of the counting centres, as a venue of some festival.
While a festive atmosphere did prevail once the trends started emerging from the centre counting the votes of Ernakulam, Thrippunithura, and Kochi constituencies, the mood was different in the morning with the Electronic Voting Machines yet to be unlocked.
Though hordes of party workers, predominantly from the Congress, Youth Congress, and Muslim League, started gathering in front of the centre dotted with OB Vans of television channels from as early as 6 a.m., a sense of edgy excitement, at best, was in the air.
“We will win by a majority of more than 10,000 votes,” said Sivan, a Congress activist from Thripunithura constituency, with the uncertainty of the unknown written large over his face.
Congress candidate from Ernakulam Hibi Eden was one of the first to reach the centre followed by sitting MLAs K. Babu and Dominic Presentation of Congress and Dinesh Mani of CPI (M).
The omnipresence of police personnel and the barricades they put up on either side of the road leading to Maharaja’s on either side made it look more like a fortress. With the agents of candidates and media personnel alone allowed inside the premises, the party activists almost disappeared once the counting got underway.
More than an hour into counting and with the lead of the young Hibi surging, scores of jubilant Youth Congress activists waving the tricolour, the blue flag of KSU and holding the cutouts of the candidate appeared on one side of the barricade.
But the celebrations were literally hijacked by a group of near-hysterical Muslim League supporters waving green flag atop a parked cargo autorickshaw on the other side. Distributing ice creams in the party colour of green in an obvious challenge to all those who, according to them, framed their leader P.K. Kunhalikutty in the ice cream sex scandal case, they kept the television camera crew and print photographers in good humour.
Shouting out provocative slogans against Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and television channel Indiavision that aired the exposes against Mr. Kunhalikutty, they nearly sparked off unruly scenes when one of them tried to manhandle a cameraman of that channel before being shied away by others. Traffic was also nearly disrupted as celebrations spilled over to the road followed by throwing of toffees wrapped in green cover inside the buses passing by.
Barricades were breached and the two groups merged shouting slogans in favour of UDF candidates holding aloft innovatively designed campaign materials and placards.
Mr. Babu and Mr. Presentation, victorious candidates of Thrippunithura and Kochi constituencies, came out to the cacophony of loud drum beats and cracker bursts at around 10.55 a.m. and was duly taken for short victory lap aloft the shoulders of supporters.
The biggest reception was, however, reserved for the youngest candidate from the district. Mr. Hibi emerged out of the counting hall almost an hour later. Hardly had he spoken to the media, he was swept off his feet on to the shoulders of supporters for a victory lap leaving the till-then crowded counting centre to the police and polling officials.