AUSTRAL AFFAIRS: Election turnout and outcome links don’t matter in Telangana

The anger with the BRS across the state, except in Hyderabad and urban areas, influenced results more than low or high voter turnouts.

ByV V P Sharma

Published Dec 06, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedDec 09, 2023 | 11:18 AM

Revanth Reddy

Telangana polled 71.34 percent of votes this time, 2.4 percentage points less than the 73.74 in 2018. Is there a link between voter turnout and the election outcome? The theory or convention is that a higher turnout means bad news for the incumbent party, and a lower turnout means good news for the incumbent.

In only 13 of the 119 constituencies, did the voter turnout increase from 2018. The increase was not even modest; it was negligible, ranging between 0.04 and 1.51 percent.

These constituencies are Dubbaka, Maheswaram, Serilingampally, Parigi, Vikarabad (SC), Medchal, Malkajgiri, Quthbullapur, Nampally, Secunderabad Cantt (SC), Munugode, Thungathurthi (SC), and Jangaon.

In eight of these 13 constituencies — Dubbaka, Maheswaram, Serilingampally, Medchal, Malkajgiri, Quthballapur, Secunderabad Cantt (SC) and Jangaon — the BRS romped home comfortably, retaining the seats. (The BJP had won the Dubbaka bypoll in 2020.)

Also read: Telangana turnout crosses 70%, but falls short of 2018

Congress in high turnout seats

The Congress wrested, with comfortable majorities, the following of these seats from the BRS: Parigi, Vikarabad (SC) and Thungathurthi (SC) constituencies.

Interestingly, along with Parigi and Vikarabad (SC), Tandur and Ibrahimpatnam comprise the only four seats that the Congress won in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) region. These are considered rural constituencies where Congress benefitted from serious resentment against the BRS and secured many votes.

In Parigi and Vikarabad (SC), it got 98,583 and 86,885 votes, respectively. Considering the voter turnout was 0.24 and 1.37 percent higher, respectively, it is again only technically proven that a higher turnout worries the incumbent because the result reflects the general resentment against the BRS in the rural areas of Telangana.

Also Read: Why such a low turnout in the Hyderabad region?

AIMIM result in ‘high’ turnout Nampally

The AIMIM, for instance, retained Nampally, but by a small margin of 2,037 votes. The Congress, which came second, would have defeated the sitting MLA but for the presence of the BRS and the BJP, which polled over 26,600 votes together. The undercurrent of disenchantment with the AIMIM leadership was palpable in this constituency, where the Muslim candidate of the Congress polled over 60,000 votes.

Also, being farthest from the Old City, with some parts falling outside it, Nampally saw a higher participation by non-Muslim voters. The voter turnout was high, but barely.

In 2018, 45.46 percent of votes were polled, while in 2023, the percentage was 45.56. One can technically say, though without much conviction, that a higher turnout means bad news for the incumbent.

Also read: Congress is the new power centre in Telangana

BRS performance in low turnout regions

If the second theory is that a lower turnout generally helps the incumbent, the BRS should have romped home. However, it did not. The turnout was lower than in 2018 in 106 constituencies, ranging between 0.2 and 7.45 percent.

Let us check how the incumbent BRS fared when the turnout was low. The party retained its seat in Koratla, where the turnout was lower than last time by 0.28 percent. In Jubilee Hills, with a turnout reduced by 0.4 percent, BRS won, defeating Mohammad Azharuddin, a strong Congress candidate though the presence of the AIMIM also helped.

The BRS won in Sangareddy, where the turnout dropped by perhaps the highest rate of 7.45 percent. However, the BRS lost in Mahbubnagar, with 4.46 percent fewer voters turning up.

It lost 49 seats primarily because the people were largely angry with it for its welfare schemes not reaching them over the years, and they decided to go in for a change — factors like oscillating voting percentages pale before such a resolve.

People’s fatigue is an equally decisive factor that can potentially debunk turnout theories. Even the AIMIM, used to winning from its traditional seats for years together, got a jolt this time.

Also read: BJP performance in Telangana Assembly polls under scrutiny

People’s fatigue compelling factor

In Charminar, a difference in voter turnout of 7.07 per cent — 50.32 percent in 2018 and 43.25 percent in 2023 — did not worry the party’s candidate, who won by 22,853 votes.

The AIMIM leaders, however, were cautious when the turnout in Yakutpura came down to 39.69 percent from 42.63 percent in 2018. It was the lowest figure in this election. The leadership’s worry was justified because of the challenge by another Muslim party, the Majlis Bachao Tahreek (MBT).

It was founded by a former AIMIM leader, Amanullah Khan, several decades ago. Khan left the party protesting the alleged lack of internal democracy and corruption. He formed the MBT, or the Save Majlis Movement.
Khan represented the Chandrayangutta constituency four times as an AIMIM candidate and once, in 1994, as an MBT candidate. He lost the 1994 election to Akbaruddin Owaisi, who has been winning from there since.

There is a growing rift in the Old City between the two parties, though AIMIM has always managed to win the elections. This time, things came close to the AIMIM getting unstuck in Yakutpura.

A low turnout was interpreted as the Muslim vote vertically split between the two parties. The AIMIM eventually won by a mere 878 votes, polling 46,153 votes. The MBT candidate got 45,275 votes.

The non-Hindu vote, including a splinter Muslim vote, was split between BJP (22,534), BRS (15,516), and Congress (6,954) votes. Combined, they totalled 44,284 — 1,329 votes less than the AIMIM secured.

Losing people’s faith seals fate

This proves that a low turnout can give a party jitters if it loses people’s faith even partially.

Let us see if the low voter turnout helped the incumbent in 2023. No, it did not. The BRS got 88 seats in 2018. The figure reduced to 39 in 2023.

Of these, it retained 30 constituencies. If it lost 49 constituencies from its 2018 tally, that too when the voter turnout is reduced, even if marginally, it can only mean a wave against the incumbent.

Look at the Congress. In 10 constituencies where its candidates won in 2018 but defected to BRS, it registered victories this time. In two other constituencies, Munugode and Huzurnagar, where it won in 2018 but lost to BRS in subsequent by-elections, it managed to win this time.

Either these were Congress strongholds, or a weakened BRS failed to make any significant dent; the changes in the voting percentage did not matter.

Personalities can influence vote anytime

At the same time, the Maheswaram constituency presents an interesting picture. Strong personalities make a difference to the party they represent, regardless of voter turnout. Sabitha Indra Reddy, the BRS candidate, polled 1,25,578 votes, defeating her nearest rival from the BJP by 26,187 votes, despite a solid anti-BRS resentment and despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the constituents.

In 2018, when she contested on a Congress ticket, she polled 95,481 votes when a pro-BRS wave was sweeping Telangana. After she defected from Congress, that party polled just over 70,000 votes, coming third this time.
She has never lost since she started her legislative career by winning the 2000 by-poll after her husband’s death.

She did not contest in the 2014 elections because of the Congress rule of one ticket per family. Her son got the Chevella Lok Sabha constituency ticket but lost to the BRS. But that made no difference to her personally. Incidentally, she is the first woman to be home minister in any Indian state.

Also read: The Kamareddy double whammy by Venkata Ramana Reddy

While on personalities, the turnout becomes irrelevant when a constituency witnesses a clash of VIPs. Look at the Kamareddy constituency. The incumbent chief minister, K Chandrashekar Rao, and the post-election chief ministerial frontrunner, A Revanth Reddy, faced embarrassing defeats at the hands of a relative political lighweight, Katipally Venkata Ramana Reddy.

The BJP chose him as a candidate because he is a local person and a wealthy businessman to boot. He campaigned as the local candidate against the two VIP “outsiders”, claiming they were not serious about Kamareddy because they were also contesting from safe constituencies.

The BJP went out of the way to campaign for its candidate. Prime Minister Modi addressed a rally in the constituency.

The voting percentage also does not matter when the public perception favours a political party. For instance, in the urban GHMC region, including Hyderabad, Congress won nothing despite the general anger against BRS. The incumbent BRS, on the other hand, won 17 seats here.

The disillusionment, palpable in the rural areas, was largely absent, primarily owing to the heavy investments the BRS made in the city. The AIMIM won from its seven strongholds and the BJP from its strong base in Goshamahal.