The Telangana Assembly elections concluded on 30 November, with a 70 percent voter turnout — a 3-percent decline from 2018. In Hyderabad, the capital region, the voter turnout stood at 51.83 percent among the urban voter population.
A dialogue from a Puri Jagannadh film goes: “A Gandhi film in India will not run for 200 days, but a film with the title ‘Kadapa King’ will successfully run in 200 centres for 100 days.”
It’s been doing the rounds on social media since Thursday, 30 November, the day of polling in Telangana.
The context is the contrast between the low voter turnout in Hyderabad and the heavy advance booking for Ranbir Kapoor starrer Animal, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga of Arjun Reddy fame.
The film’s advance booking was reportedly valued at ₹20 crore, led by Telangana, which recorded pre-release ticket sales worth ₹4.14 crore.
So, what’s with the low voter turnout in the state’s capital city?
The highly anticipated voting concluded on 30 November, with the state’s turnout recorded at around 71 percent — a two-percent decline from 2018.
The capital region of Hyderabad, with an urban voter population of 87,84,865 across 23 constituencies, includes segments from the districts of Hyderabad, Medchal, Malkajgiri, Ranga Reddy, and Medak.
For a bustling metropolis, just about 45,58,534 voters (51.83 percent) turned up for the ballot.
In 2014, the overall voting figure for the state stood at 69 percent, with the Hyderabad region seeing 52.62 percent of voters exercising their franchise.
In 2018, the overall turnout increased to 73.74 percent, while in the Hyderabad region, it declined marginally to 52.36 percent.
Over the past three Assembly elections, the capital region produced a low voter turnout compared to other districts.
Barring Quthbullapur and Maheshwaram, which saw a slight increase in voter numbers from 2018, all other constituencies saw a decline, with the highest witnessed in Charminar, followed by Karwan, and Patancheru.
But the pressing question here is why, despite being the capital region, with a substantial number of employees, graduates, the business class, intellectuals, and celebrities, do voters in the Hyderabad region stay away from polling?
South First‘s interactions in and around the Hyderabad region threw up multiple reasons for low voter turnout.
Most of these issues stemmed from improper updating of voter lists, lack of interest among urban voters, and the prevalence of bogus votes.
Harish Daga, a Hyderabad-based social activist advocating for electoral reforms, shared his observations: “The voter list in Hyderabad is not updated properly. It includes names of deceased individuals and of those who have moved out of Hyderabad. This results in a significant gap in voter turnout.”
He pointed out several goof-ups. For instance, in Devaki Apartments in Domalguda, where he resides, Harish noticed there are as many as 26 names listed from that address — none of whom has stayed in the city for years, “including six people who died during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
He explained: “Despite complaining to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and a field inspection undertaken, the 26 names still appeared on the ECI site on voting day.”
He also highlighted challenges faced by voters residing in rented houses: “In Hyderabad, a significant portion of the population lives in rented houses, and when they change addresses between constituencies, they face difficulties in obtaining voter slips. Despite their efforts to update the information, it often doesn’t reflect the changes on the ECI portal. This is a major reason that discourages middle-class voters from participating.”
Harish recounted his efforts to help around 500 voters in the Sattva Magnus gated community in Shaikpet update their address details after changing localities.
He also said, “At least 20 percent of Hyderabad’s population does not reside in the city. This includes individuals from neighbouring states such as Andhra Pradesh, who have returned but are still registered as voters in Hyderabad due to a lack of updation.”
Lack of interest and IT employees not getting leave from offices to vote are additional challenges.
The old city of Hyderabad, with a dominant Muslim population in constituencies like Charminar, Yakutpura, Karwan, Malakpet, Bahadurpura, and Nampally, has consistently seen a low voter turnout.
Muslim youth at an iconic tea spot near Charminar, when asked whether they had voted, responded with a resounding no. They expressed scepticism, telling South First, “What is the use of voting? Even after one stands in long queues, it is the AIMIM candidates who will win here, and the situation will be the same.”
Voter apathy was also evident in constituencies in the Old City like Charminar, where a significant working class is present: It reported around 43 percent turnout.
Polling booths in Serilingampally, Kukatpally, and Jubilee Hills experienced a last-minute surge in voting, with some people joining the queue just before 5 pm.
Some salaried employees told South First, requesting anonymity: “The company HR said that we will get an off as we are voters, but the managers called and asked us to vote and work on our projects. Because of that, we turned up for voting towards the end as we were busy with work the whole day. Some of our colleagues didn’t show interest as long queues existed even at the last minute.”
Forum for Good Governance president and retired IFS officer Padmanabha Reddy told South First, “Several companies didn’t offer holidays despite strict ECI guidelines. Many have brought this to our attention, and it is yet to be seen how the ECI responds.”
On the lack of participation by the business class and educated voters, he said, “It is due to voter apathy, as they feel unhappy towards the current political system. This could be seen especially in the Serilingampally, Kukatpally, Secunderabad, and Jubilee Hills areas.”
Padmanabha Reddy said, “Corporate firms and IT companies in Hyderabad could have insisted that employees vote, as some of them utilised the holiday to make it a long weekend — especially since the elections were held on Thursday.”
Padmanabha Reddy pointed out another problem. He said: “Many in Hyderabad have two votes: They have retained their name in Hyderabad, but also vote in their native villages. This could be seen from the busy roads of Hyderabad leading to rural areas on 29 and 30 November, a day before and on polling day.”
Another issue that Reddy and Harish pointed out for low turn out was strict police measure on bogus voting.
Speaking about curbing bogus votes, police officer, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police for South Zone (Old City jurisdiction), Shaik Jahangir, informed the South First that, “Ever since the new CP Sandeep Shandilya took charge, we have successfully curtailed bogus voting. This has been achieved through drone monitoring, continuous on-ground surveillance, and instructing unsocial elements and electoral offenders to cast their votes and refrain from leaving their homes thereafter.”
“These measures have significantly reduced bogus voting. Last year, to my knowledge, there were no reported cases of bogus voting. However, this year, at least three people have been detained, and strict measures are in place to deter others from engaging in such activities,” the Additional DCP added.
It is true that certain portion of voters don’t cast their votes, and the Hyderabad is no exception. But, a large part of the problem lies with voter list updation, and voters apathy. Without addressing this core issue, many in political circles and on social media continued to label Hyderabad as a lazy city, which, in fact, may not be the case.
Moreover, many of those who attempted to vote had to return home as EVMs developed technical glitches, with no additional EVMs available, as only one machine was installed in many booths despite having to cater to 1,300 voters.