Shifted booths, BLOs’ slip-ups led to low polling in Hyderabad constituency

The Hyderabad parliamentary constituency is marred by several issues, but the voter turnout was notably low.

BySumit Jha

Published May 14, 2024 | 10:10 AMUpdatedMay 14, 2024 | 10:11 AM

Several voters found their names missing from the rolls after reaching the polling booth.

Even as Telangana went to the polls on Monday, 13 May, several campaigners asked the electorate to turn up in large numbers at polling stations.

They urged the voters against considering the polling day — the biggest festival in a democracy —  a paid holiday. Instead, they exhorted the people to step out and vote.

The Election Commission of India and various political leaders, too, called for all to vote. Yet, when the poll panel released the voter turnout data hours after the end of polls, the figure for Telangana stood at 64.87 percent.

Most voters in Hyderabad did a Rip Van Winkle, refusing to wake up from a deliberate stupor and participate in the exercise that would decide their lives for the next five years. The turnout figures for Hyderabad, with a total of 22,17,305 voters, was 46.08 percent.

Hours later, the Election Commission expressed dismay over the urban voter apathy towards turning up at polling stations. The panel felt the heatwave conditions might have discouraged them from venturing out of their comfort zones.

South First took a quick look at the reasons for the abysmal voter turnout in Hyderabad and found that weather conditions alone could not be blamed for voters’ reluctance to get their fingers inked. The reasons were many.

Also Read: BJP candidate Madhavi Latha booked for obstructing police, taking away dummy EVMs

Who moved my booth?

Some overslept late into the day and woke up too lazy and tired to step out. Several others who reached the polling booths could not find their names in the electoral rolls.

Many voters even realised after reaching the booth that they were to vote at a polling station different from where they had been exercising the franchise. Afzai Begum of Ziaguda was one among them.

She had reached the polling booth 38 at Ziaguda along with her daughter-in-law.

“I have been voting here since my marriage. I even voted here during the November 2023 legislative Assembly election,” Begum said on Monday.

She approached an agent outside the booth after failing to find her name on the list.

“After checking the website, he informed me that my booth had been changed to booth number 50. It is still in Ziaguda but about three kilometres away. Now, I have to take an auto to go there,” she said.

Determined to cast her vote, she took an auto-rickshaw to booth 50. But many others, who faced the same issue, returned home without exercising their franchise.

Also Read: BJP candidates heckle Muslim women voters, officials

Voter-slips hit a block

The Block-level Officers (BLOs) were responsible for distributing photo voter-slips to the electorate ahead of the polls. In many cases, the voters did not get the slips that specified the booth and serial numbers.

A BLO. who spoke to South First on the condition of anonymity, admitted that the slips were not delivered to all voters.

“Some voters reside in rented houses and frequently change their address, making it difficult to locate them,” he said.

“Additionally, in buildings where multiple families reside on different floors, they often fail to specify the exact floor, further complicating the process of finding them. Subsequently, we distribute the slips only to those whose addresses we are familiar with,” the BLO explained.

Political parties did not complain about BLOs’ failure to distribute slips.

Agents near polling booths were seen influencing voters. A couple at the wrong booth was promptly offered an auto-rickshaw ride to their booth. As they boarded the three-wheeler, the Owaisi brothers smiled at them from a prominently displayed poster, with a kite — the election symbol of AIMIM — in the background.

Asaduddin Owaisi is the AIMIM’s candidate in the Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency.

Meanwhile, another group of political workers were busy distributing voter-slips downloaded and printed from booth management apps. The slips featured the BJP symbol, and the party candidate’s name. Incidentally, poll norms prohibit canvassing voters inside polling stations.

Missing names

Two days before polling, Hyderabad-based civic activist SQ Masood tried to get his voter slip from the BLO. He even tried for it online.

However, he soon realised that his name had been inexplicably deleted from the electoral list without any prior notification.

Masood revealed besides his name, the names of 10 of his family members, too, also removed from the electoral roll.

“I have been residing at this location for the past four decades and have consistently voted, including in November 2023,” Masood said in a letter addressed to the Election Commission.

Like that of Masood, the names of approximately 5.5 lakh voters were deleted just before the election. Of the names deleted,  2.68 lakh were voters in the Hyderabad parliamentary constituency.

Several voters in Chevella, Secunderabad, and Malkajgiri, all falling under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation area, took to social media, saying they had disappeared from the electoral rolls.

However, individuals who were familiar with the procedures took proactive steps. They went to their respective polling stations and checked their names in the Absentee, Shifted, Dead (ASD) voters’ list.

Some individuals, who found their names on the lists, were able to cast their votes. Unfortunately, many others who were unaware of such lists, returned disappointed.

Also Read: Voting largely peaceful in Telangana

Polling day? Goa chalo

At 3.30 pm on Monday, motorcycle mechanic Mohammed Afsar of Asad Baba Nagar in Bahadurpura rubbed his eyes with a yawn.

“Today was my day off, so I stayed awake until morning. I fell asleep around 6 am and woke up just now,” Afsar explained.

“My family has already voted. I’m the only one left in the family who have to vote. I’m going to wake up a friend, and we’ll go together to the booth,” he added.

Many youngsters in the Old City looked soporific like Afsar. Some even mentioned knowing people who had travelled to Goa to celebrate the long weekend.

Despite the voting turnout being only 46.08 percent, it was slightly higher than the turnout in the 2019 parliamentary election. Hyderabad polled only 44.84 percent in the previous election.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).