The Telangana election has provided the Congress some much-needed comfort this polling cycle as it succeeded in unseating a two-term incumbent chief minister who had built, over the years, one of the most formidable political machines in regional politics.

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, rechristened the Bharat Rashtra Samithi in October 2022, had won the 2018 state election with a landslide, bagging nearly 75% of the seats with 47% of the votes.

The Congress gained 11% of the vote share, enabling it to win its first majority in a region where it had been in decline since the death of its stalwart YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2009 and the party’s split with his son YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has invested much effort and resources to grow a presence in the state, doubled its vote share but failed to make significant inroads in the assembly.

Like in most states, voters tend to favour more major players. The cumulative vote share of major parties – including the BJP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen – has risen to 93% in this election. This means that the average vote share required to win seats increases as there is little fragmentation of electoral behaviour at the constituency level.

Telangana’s political landscape, however, remains fragmented, which helps amplify the disproportionality effect of the electoral system. In other words, the first party tends to benefit more from the dispersion of votes around it. In 2018, the Congress won only 19 seats with 28% of the vote. An 11% increase translated into a massive gain of seats – 64.

The two maps below illustrate the amplitude of the Congress’s performance, or the extent of Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s rout. In 2018, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi swept most parts of the state, except the Jayashankar and Bhadradri Kothagudem districts, adjacent to Andhra Pradesh, which the Congress won.

Five years later, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi retained a cluster of seats in the Sangarreddy, Medak and Siddipet districts, around Hyderabad, but was largely wiped out from the rest of the state. The BJP’s eight seats are clustered in the Adilabad and Nizamabad districts, bordering Maharashtra, while the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen retained its seven seats in the Hyderabad agglomeration.

The Congress’s vote share map shows that its candidates performed across the state, but unevenly so. Thirty-nine of its candidates won with a majority of votes, while 32 scored below 30% of the votes. Twenty-four of its candidates ended up in the third position or lower. This indicates that the Congress’s performance was, at least in part, dependent on the selection of good candidates rather than simply on transversal factors such as anti-incumbency sentiment, state leadership or the general message of its campaign.

A comparison with 2018 shows that the Congress consolidated votes where it was already strong. The maps show similar contrasts but with a higher level of vote share overall. In other words, the vote gains of the Congress have been well distributed across the map and not concentrated in areas where it was weaker five years ago.

The vote share distribution of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, on the other hand, is concentrated in the western part of the state and more comprehensively low in the eastern, southern and northern parts.

The BJP votes were also fairly distributed, which indicates a growth more significant than its current seat tally.

The BJP is yet to develop a pan-state presence, but a comparison of the 2023 vote share map with 2018 shows considerable progress, which will give the party high command some measure of satisfaction.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen remains, as usual, the most effective party, winning seven of the nine seats it contested. The Congress won 54% of the seats it contested, against 23 for Bharat Rashtra Samithi.

The seat change map shows not only how the Congress gained across the state, but also how the Bharat Rashtra Samithi failed to win new seats. Usually, even a defeated incumbent manages to win a number of new seats while losing those they won before. But this time, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi managed to win only five new seats, while the Congress won 51 new seats. In total, 64 seats changed hands.

This means that voters returned the same party in 55 constituencies. The Bharat Rashtra Samithi retained only 34 of the 88 seats it had won in 2018 while the Congress retained 13 of 18 seats won five years ago.

A premium for Congress in reserved seats

The Congress did well in reserved seats, particularly in the 12 Scheduled Tribe seats. There is a 12% vote share difference between general and Scheduled Tribe seats for the Congress, which is considerable. The difference is even larger for Scheduled Caste seats, where the Congress won nearly 50% of the votes.

Most Scheduled Tribe seats are in clusters in the eastern districts and in the Adilabad region in the north. This indicates that the Congress was already doing well in these areas and that it greatly consolidated its presence there in 2023.

The Bharat Rashtra Samithi, on the other hand, lost a lot of votes in Scheduled Caste seats, where it had performed the best in 2018. It also did more poorly in Scheduled Tribe seats.

The BJP, on the other hand, is yet to develop support in reserved seats. Its vote share in general seats is more than twice higher than in reserved seats.

High victory margins

Most candidates won with strong margins, which indicates once again that candidates mattered in this election. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen candidates won with decisive margins, 24% on average, which indicates that it remains safe in its strongholds. The few Bharat Rashtra Samithi candidates who won also scored comfortable margins. So did the Congress and BJP candidates.

As a result, there were few close contests in this election. Only 26 candidates won with a margin inferior to 5% – 11 from the Congress, 10 from Bharat Rashtra Samithi, three from the BJP and two from All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. In Chevella, Kale Yadaiah of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, won by only 268 votes.

Seventy-one candidates won with a margin superior to 10%, again with a fair distribution across parties.

Stable participation

Turnout did not increase in this election. Data to assess this for 2023 was not yet available. Women and men tend to vote in equal proportion in Telangana. But again, data to assess this for 2023 was not available.

Despite the fact that voters tend to be strategic and concentrate their votes on strong, viable candidates, the number of parties continues to grow in Telangana. This time, 103 parties contested, a sharp increase compared to the elections that preceded and followed the creation of the state. Only five parties made it to the assembly.

A sharp turnover in MLAs

The amplitude of the Congress’s victory brought many newcomers to the assembly. Sixty-two out of 119 have been elected for the first time. There are 34 MLAs with experience of more than two terms in the assembly. Eighteen of them are from the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, 11 from the Congress, three from the BJP and two from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Terms won in the Andhra Pradesh assembly before the creation of Telangana in 2014 are included in this analysis.

This means that most of Congress’s MLAs will have to learn their job on the go. How many of them contested for the first time was not assessed.

A comparison with previous elections shows that this is not unusual in Telangana. In 2018, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi won a landslide with many of its incumbent MLAs. But otherwise, there is usually a majority of newcomers in the assembly.

A total of 103 incumbent candidates contested again this year, which is high. But contrary to 2018, most lost: about two-third of them. One of the techniques available to parties to resist anti-incumbency sentiment is to field fresh faces. Anti-incumbency sentiment is generally split between the party or the government – against the government or the chief minister – and individual incumbency sentiment, which is directed against sitting MLAs. Changing candidates can help attenuate individual incumbency.

The Bharat Rashtra Samithi did not do so, by fielding 83 of its 88 previously elected MLAs. Only 24 of them won again. Elections before 2018 show that most incumbent candidates who contest again lose. This was a poor tactical choice by the Bharat Rashtra Samithi leadership.

A decreasing presence of women

Of the total of 2,290 candidates, only 201 were women. The three major parties fielded only 29 women candidates, of whom 10 won. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen fielded none. Data for the last four elections shows that women representation has slightly decreased in recent years, while the share of women contestants remains constant.

Dominant agrarian groups such as the Reddys and Kammas hold sway over Telangana politics, leaving little space for women. This is also a feature of Andhra Pradesh politics. In 2023, the three major parties nominated a similar number of women candidates. The BJP had done slightly better than others in 2018 but did not follow through in 2023.

Thirty-five constituencies did not have a single woman candidate, while thirty-three constituencies had more than three. Women’s representation will not improve unless they contest across all seats.

Four of the 10 women in the new assembly have been elected for the first time. The veteran woman politician in the state is Sabitha Indra Reddy Patlolla, a five-time Bharat Rashtra Samithi MLA from Maheshwaram. Congress’s veteran woman MLA is Surekha Konda, elected for the fourth time in Warangal.

The decline of Muslim candidates

Finally, while Muslim representation in the state is constant, at 6%, the share of Muslims among candidates has been declining over the past two elections. Muslim representation in Telangana is solely ensured by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which retains its strongholds in Hyderabad.

Since 2009, 30 Muslims MLAs have been elected in the assembly, 28 of them on All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen tickets. The only non-AIMIM muslim MLA in Telangana was Shakil Aamir Mohammed, elected twice on a Bharat Rashtra Samithi ticket in Bodhan. In 2023, the three major parties fielded only nine Muslim candidates – five by the Congress, three by the Bharat Rashtra Samithi and one by the BJP – three fewer than in 2018 but more than in 2014 when there were eight.

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Muslims are demographically dominant essentially in Hyderabad. Another explanation is that the working arrangement between the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, which has helped the Muslim party preserve the domination of its strongholds. This has meant that the Bharat Rashtra Samithi does not have to bother providing representation to Muslims in Hyderabad or elsewhere.

But the overall decrease in candidatures shows a growing disengagement of Muslims from electoral politics – not necessarily as voters, but certainly as candidates.


This data exploration of the Telangana election does not throw up major surprises or counter-intuitive insights. The Congress performed well in this election, which was marked by a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the K Chandrasekhar Rao-led government. This was more pronounced in reserved areas, where the Congress usually does better.

Variations of performance among candidates indicates that candidate appeal did play a role in this election. This may sound trite, but the fact is that parties can sometimes be guided by the belief that only issues and leadership matter. A pragmatic selection of candidates helped the Congress win decisively.

Even though Telangana is a different state from the three Hindi belt states that held elections this season, it reveals how crucial it is for the Congress to get its house in order. The Congress in Telangana was not suffering from factionalism or was as divided as it was in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Its campaign was professionally run. It had a clearly designated leader in A Revanth Reddy, who has now become chief minister.

The Congress in Telangana displayed more similarities with its counterpart in Karnataka, something that the party’s high command should take note of.

The BJP’s efforts in the state have not been rewarded. Over the past years, it has invested a lot of time and resources building a presence and a cadre in the state. Like in many other states, it has followed a policy of wooing lower Other Backward Class groups, which have been historically under-represented in Telangana.

But contrary to Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, Telangana politics remains dominated by powerful groups, over-represented across parties. This leaves little scope for BJP’s tactic to succeed, not the way it has succeeded in the north.

Gilles Verniers is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and Karl Loewenstein Fellow at Amherst College. Views are personal. The author thanks Abhishek Jha and Roshan Kishore for providing raw election data.

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