The ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh successfully won the Nandyal bye-poll, after the results were announced by the Election Commission on Monday.
The TDP defeated the Opposition YSRCP party, with Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy securing a winning margin of over 27,000 votes.
The YSRCP bagged 69,710 votes, while the Congress could only manage a dismal 1,153 votes, according to media reports.
The bye-poll was necessitated after the death of Bhuma Nagi Reddy, who had quit the YSR Congress party to join the ruling TDP in 2016.
There were 15 candidates in the fray, including Bhuma's nephew Brahmananda Reddy of the TDP, Silpa Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress and Abdul Khader from the Congress.
Since the counting began, the result was leaning in TDP's favour, as the ruling party kept increasing its margin with each round of counting.
After five rounds of counting, TDP led with a margin of 13,162 votes over the YSRCP. By the tenth round of counting, the margin had widened to more than 19,000 votes.
With this result, the TDP has stormed into the constituency in the Rayalaseema region of the state, which has historically been viewed as a Congress bastion, and later a YSRCP stronghold.
Last week, over 80% of voters cast ballots in the bye-election, which was finished peacefully barring minor incidents.
According to reports, the TDP and YSRCP did not poll a single vote in the postal ballots, as out of 250 postal ballot votes, 39 were invalid and 211 were NOTA.
Meanwhile, the Congress barely managed to collect a little over 1,000 votes, faring just slightly better than some Independent candidates.
Chief Electoral Officer Bhanwarlal told reporters in Hyderabad that this would be the highest polling in "years or a decade".
Over 2.19 lakh voters were eligible to exercise their franchise at 255 centres.
For the first time, the Election Commission used Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in the election.
The VVPAT helps the voters know the candidates they voted for. The VVPAT attached to the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) displays for seven seconds the name of the candidate the voter cast ballot for. Bhanwarlal said there were no complaints about the functioning of VVPAT.
Tight security arrangements were made across the politically sensitive constituency to ensure peaceful and fair polling.
More than 2,500 police personnel, six units of central paramilitary forces, 15 platoons of the Armed Reserve and Special Police were deployed.
Thanking people of Nandyal for showing their trust in TDP's governance. Will create a Smart Nandyal by following our motto 'People First'.— N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) August 28, 2017
People have endorsed development agenda, upheld values in public life. Rejected and punished negative politics & disorderliness.— N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) August 28, 2017
Bhuma Reddy, who passed away when he was 53, entered politics in 1987, after his father was murdered in a faction war that plagued Kurnool district.
In 1991, his brother suffered a heart attack and passed away. Following this, he was elected as an MLA from Allagadda, a neighbouring constituency to Nandyal.
The Nandyal seat is historically significant, as it was from here that former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had contested the 1996 elections. The Congress veteran defeated Bhuma Reddy to win the seat.
In 2008, Bhuma Reddy and his wife, Shobha Reddy, quit the TDP after several stints as legislators, and backed actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party (PRP). However, they quit the PRP when it merged with the Congress.
They joined the YSRCP, as they shared a long relationship with former Andhra CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy and campaigned for the party.
Shobha Reddy died in an accident in 2014. In the elections that year, Bhuma Reddy won the Nandyal seat, while his daughter Bhuma Akhila Priya bagged the Allagadda seat.
However, Bhuma and Akhila defected back to the TDP in February 2016.
To complicate things further, Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu even swore in Akhila as the state’s new Tourism Minister.
Akhila was at the forefront of the campaign along with her cousin, Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy, who was the TDP candidate.
A heated campaign
It was a direct fight between the TDP and the YSR Congress, with both the parties treating it as a battle for prestige.
The constituency witnessed a high-voltage and acrimonious campaign led by Chief Minister and TDP President N Chandrababu Naidu and YSR Congress chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy.
Both party chiefs made sensational statements, with Naidu saying, "You are taking the pension I am giving, using roads we have built, taking rations that we give, benefiting from our schemes, then why should you not support us politically?"
On the other hand, Jagan went more than one step further, saying, "Naidu should be shot dead for cheating people of Andhra Pradesh and his false promises and double-speak on every issue."
He also called for the CM's 'hanging' twice. Following this, TDP leaders approached the Election Commission and the police.
A case was later booked against the leader under Sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach) and 506 (for criminal intimidation) of the IPC at the III Town police station in Nandyal.
Jagan’s media house Sakshi TV was also booked under sections of the Representation of People’s Act.
The stakes were high for both the parties as the result is seen as a referendum on the performance of TDP-BJP government and indicate which way the wind may blow in the 2019 election.