Seventeen of the 25 constituencies that saw the sharpest drop in voter turnouts in the first five phases of the 2024 general elections are in the northern states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, data released by the Election Commission shows.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had won 16 of them in 2019. Thirteen constituencies are in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the party notched impressive majorities in the last general election, averaging a victory margin of 3.8 lakh votes. The remaining three are in Uttar Pradesh.

On the flip side, 20 of the 25 constituencies with the highest increase in voter turnouts in the first five phases are in southern and western India – eight in Karnataka, seven in Telangana and five in Maharashtra.

Of these 20 seats, the BJP won 12 in 2019. Here too, the saffron party averaged a victory margin of nearly two lakh votes.

A total of 428 seats went to polls in the first five phases of the 2024 general elections.

Compared to 2019, voter turnout fell in 280 of them. The highest fall was seen in the Nagaland constituency, where turnout dropped from 82.91% in 2019 to 57.72% this year, likely because the Eastern Naga People’s Organisation had issued a call to abstain from voting over demands for a separate state.

Only 144 constituencies reported an increase in voter turnout compared to 2019. Four constituencies in Assam are excluded from this analysis since they will be electing a member of Parliament for the first time after a delimitation exercise in 2023.

Turnout drops in BJP strongholds

The second-highest fall in turnout after Nagaland was registered in Madhya Pradesh’s Sidhi constituency, falling 13 percentage points from 2019. Seven other seats from the state made it to the top 25 – Khajuraho, Rewa, Shahdol, Damoh, Satna and Jabalpur in western part of the state and Indore in the East.

The BJP won 28 of 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh in 2019.

In Khajuraho and Indore this year, the INDIA alliance was unable to field candidates against the Hindutva party. The nomination of the Samajwadi Party’s Khajuraho candidate was rejected for irregularities which the party termed as a “well-planned conspiracy”. In Indore, the Congress candidate joined the BJP weeks before polling.

The BJP is concerned about the drop in voter turnout in Madhya Pradesh, The Indian Express reported. An internal analysis by the party attributed this to weak canvassing by the party cadre, anti-incumbency and poor turnout among women voters who identify with the welfare schemes of former BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, now sidelined by the party.

The Madhya Pradesh trend seems to have played out in Rajasthan too. In 2019, the BJP and its ally, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, won all 25 seats in the state. This year, at least five of them recorded large drops in turnout – Jhunjhunu, Ajmer, Sikar, Jaipur Rural and Ganganagar.

In Rajasthan too, the BJP’s central leadership has snubbed former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who has reportedly been absent from the saffron party’s campaign events in the state.

In Gujarat, another state where the BJP swept all 26 seats in 2019, the Bardoli constituency saw an 8.9 percentage point drop in voter turnout.

The case of Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura registered the third highest fall in voter turnout among the constituencies that voted in the first five phases. The BJP has held the seat since 2014. According to reports, BJP MP Hema Malini faces anti-incumbency in the rural parts of her constituency over unemployment and farm distress. As Scroll reported, Muslims have alleged vote suppression in some neighbourhoods of Mathura.

Bijnor, Baghpat and Muzaffarnagar in Jat-dominated western Uttar Pradesh are the other three constituencies in the state featuring in the list of top 25.

This time, the BJP is not contesting Bijnor and Baghpat. In the fray instead is its new ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which in turn is not contesting Muzaffarnagar, a seat it lost to the BJP by a razor-thin margin in 2019.

The case of Kerala

Among the 25 seats with the sharpest fall in voter turnout are six constituencies from Kerala – Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki, Ernakulam, Chalakudy and Mavelikkara. In 2019, all of them were won by the Congress-led United Democratic Alliance.

The biggest fall in the southern state was in Pathanamthitta at 10.87 percentage points.

According to the Hindustan Times, problems with voter lists, extreme weather conditions and a disinterest among young voters are likely reasons for the decline.

Increase in turnout

In the first five phases of the 2024 elections, 144 of the total 428 seats saw a higher voter turnout than 2019.

The top two seats in this list are Baramulla and Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, won by the National Conference in 2019. The increase in voter turnout has been attributed to brewing anger against the Narendra Modi government, which first abrogated the special status of the erstwhile state, and then governed it through unelected bureaucrats.

The majority of seats with high voter turnout are in Karnataka, Telangana and Maharashtra – 20 of the total 25. The BJP won 12 of them in 2019. Of these, 11 are in Karnataka and Maharashtra. This includes Bhiwandi in Maharashtra and Raichur in Karnataka, where the voter turnout increased by more than 6 percentage points this year.

In Karnataka, the voter turnout was driven up by women voters. Compared to 2019, their turnout saw an average rise of 2.65 percentage points, more than the average 1.78 percentage points among men.

This factor manifested most in Raichur, Belgaum, Bijapur, Bellary, Dharwad, Haveri, Davanagere and Bangalore Rural, where increase in the turnout of women voters ranged from 3.7% to 6.9%.

A possible explanation for the higher turnout of women could be the Karnataka government’s welfare schemes targeted at women, according to journalist CG Manjula.

At least five seats in Telangana that went into the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s kitty in 2019 – Nagarkurnool, Mahbubnagar, Warangal, Zahirabad and Medak – are also among the seats that saw the most significant rise in turnout this year.

The state, which has 17 seats, is witnessing a competitive triangular contest between the BJP, Congress and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi this year.

In Maharashtra, Pune seems to have registered a spike in turnout because of a curious statistical phenomenon. Compared to 2019, the electorate in the constituency has shrunk by more than 14,000 electors.

Kalyan is seeing a high-profile contest featuring Shiv Sena chief minister Eknath Shinde’s son, while Union minister of state and BJP leader Kapil Patil is contesting from Bhiwandi.

Other seats with high increase in turnout in Maharashtra are in the Marathwada region, where the Maratha demand for reservation has pitted voters from the Other Backward Classes community against the Marathas. Jalna is ground zero for Maratha reservation activist Manoj Jarange-Patil. In adjoining Beed, the BJP has fielded Pankaja Munde, the daughter of late BJP politician and OBC leader Gopinath Munde.

In North India, only one seat made it to this list – Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki, which is reserved for Scheduled Castes. The BJP won the seat by 1.1 lakh votes in 2019. But this time, it faces discontentment among its Dalit voters who are reportedly alarmed by the party leaders’ calls for amending the Constitution, seeing it as a move to scrap reservations for them in government jobs and educational institutions.

Similarly, Mohanlalganj and Bahraich, both reserved seats in UP, went against the grain and registered small upticks in voter turnout. So have Banswara in Rajasthan and Hajipur in Bihar.

But as psephologist Sanjay Kumar has pointed out, some upticks can be attributed to high-profile contests too. In Hajipur, for instance, Lok Janshakti Party’s Chirag Paswan is in the fray. In Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi leader Dimple Yadav contesting in Mainpuri, party chief Akhilesh Yadav in Kannauj, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Raebareli and BJP strongman Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s son Karan Bhushan Singh in Kaiserganj might explain why voter turnout in these seats has increased.