"Old man" VS Achuthanandan almost did it, but in the end the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist veteran lost a cliffhanger of an election battle to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala on Friday.
What began as a neck and neck race concluded no differently, with the UDF winning 72 seats, just one more than the 71 needed to form a government in the 140-member assembly. It was the narrowest victory margin ever in the state.
LDF put up a valiant fight and won 68 seats, the highest any ruling front in the state has got in a successive election. But it was so near and yet so far.
Contrary to expectation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to open an account in the state - yet again.
"We are not going to cobble a government, instead we will be sitting in the opposition but we will be working for the people of the state. Tomorrow (Saturday) morning I will be submitting my resignation," an unfazed Achuthanandan, 87, told reporters at Malampuzha in Palakkad district after recording a hat trick victory from the seat.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) veteran had led the charge for the LDF - and it was during campaigning that he was famously called "old man" by Congress MP Rahul Gandhi. The former then hit back calling the latter "Amul baby".
IUML, which is part of the UDF, won 20 out of 24 seats.
Over 75.12 percent of the 231,478,71 had voted April 13 to elect the 13th Kerala assembly. After vote count began at 8 a.m., the results kept people and political parties on tenterhooks for more than five hours.
When the 2009 Lok Sabha election took place, the UDF had gained leads in as many as 100 assembly segments, giving the Congress the confidence that it would sweep the assembly polls.
"This was not what we expected," said opposition leader and former chief minister Oommen Chandy, who is again tipped to take over the reins of the state. He won in the Puthupally seat of Kottayam district.
The Congress could win just 38 of the 82 seats they contested.
Among the prominent UDF candidates who lost were 91-year-old K R Gowri (JSS), M V Raghavan (CMP), both formerly CPI-M, four-time Congress legislator M Murali and K T Benny, who had been handpicked by Rahul Gandhi.
Even Kerala Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala won only after going through an uncertain time in the opening hours of the vote count.
In 2001, the UDF had swept to power, winning 99 seats. The same feat was repeated by the LDF in 2006 -- with the same number of seats.
Reacting to the results, CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said they accept the verdict and would work in the opposition.
"If not for a consolidation of communal forces, the result would have been different. Being in the opposition, we will be keeping our eyes and ears open and will see to it that the government is kept on tenterhooks when it comes to policies and development issues," Vijayan told reporters here.
Forest Minister Binoy Viswan of the Communist Party of India (CPI), an LDF member, predicted hard times for the Congress and UDF.
"Even though the UDF has won, it remains to be seen if they can go ahead in a smooth manner. You can certainly expect fireworks on their side because a few of their allies are totally unhappy," said Viswan.
While Achuthanandan and 11 of his cabinet ministers won, three of his cabinet colleagues from three allies lost the polls.
Like in the past, after giving a scare to three rival candidates, the BJP ended up as runners-up.
The UDF now has a job on hand. The first parliamentary party meeting of its allies is expected to be held Sunday. First, the Congress party will have to pick a chief minister and then will come the even more difficult task of forming the cabinet.