Defying a quarter century of incumbency and a high-octane campaign by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine, the Nitish Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan swept to a landslide victory Sunday in the Bihar assembly elections, granting the Chief Minister a record third term in office.
The extent of the defeat — the NDA managed only 58 (BJP 53) in a 243-seat House while the Mahagathbandhan took 178 and Others 7 — stunned the BJP and its partners, unsettling plans ahead of the crucial winter session of Parliament. The verdict will embolden the Opposition given that elections are due next year in Assam, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Puducherry.
Whether the RSS chief’s remarks on reservation or the Dadri incident that sparked the beef debate had any bearing on the outcome remained unclear, but what was evident was that the BJP suffered defeats in each of the five phases of the election.
The vote share, according to the Election Commission, was BJP 24.4%, LJP 4.8%, RLSP 2.6% and HAM 2.3%; RJD 18.4%, JD(U) 16.8% and Congress 6.7%.
In first remarks after the victory, Nitish Kumar said the Bihar mandate would have a “national impact” in terms of a “strong opposition” to the Centre. He said people who had given an overwhelming majority to the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections also wanted a strong opposition to emerge from Bihar. “It was the desire of the people to bring in a strong Opposition against the Centre.”
His partner Lalu Prasad, who embraced Nitish and addressed him as “present chief minister and continuing chief minister”, was more direct, frontal in his attack on the Modi government. Lalu said they would take the fight to Delhi — “Dilli par chadaai karenge” — to unseat the BJP and “I will go to Banaras (the Prime Minister’s constituency) with my lantern (the RJD symbol)”.
“Bihar has shown the way to the country. There is no question of any jhanjhat (problem or conflict) after such an overwhelming mandate, but we do have issues with the government in Delhi. I will keep my election promise and start my campaign from Banaras… Nitish will be busy with state affairs, I will try to engage him least. But if we create problems after such a mandate, the people will not spare us,” Lalu said.
There is already speculation whether the deputy chief minister’s post will go to one of the two sons of Lalu who have been elected or senior RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui.
The BJP office in Patna, where party workers were celebrating and distributing sweet as the first trends came in, wore a deserted look soon after the trends reversed. State party leaders stayed away from the office while celebrations moved to the nearby offices of the RJD and JD(U).
Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh called Nitish to congratulate him on the win while Amit Shah tweeted, “We respect the mandate of the people of Bihar… I congratulate Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav on their victory in Bihar Assembly elections.”
Though Lalu took a swipe at Modi when he remarked “I wonder if he has congratulated Nitish dil se (from his heart)”, Nitish said the Prime Minister had called to greet him and “we will not bear ill-will against any section and will want the Centre’s cooperation so that Bihar can play a constructive role in the progress of the country”.