It was a Sad Sunday for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as what was touted as a photo-finish electoral contest turned into a clear victory for the Grand Alliance led by incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the Hindi heartland state of Bihar.
As the counting began early Sunday morning, initial leads suggested the BJP-led NDA leading in more seats than its rivals, but the premature euphoria and celebrations turned into gloom and doom for the ruling party at the Centre, with the final phase of the counting showing the Grand Alliance leading in more than 150 seats. The alliance look set to get nearly double the seats secured by the BJP-led alliance in Bihar.
This is the first major electoral setback for Mr Modi since he shepherded his party to a blockbuster victory in the May 2014 elections, delivering India from a quarter century of coalition rule.
Nitish Kumar, who has ruled Bihar for a decade and has fashioned the image of a development politician, much like Mr Modi, is clearly the man of the hour. But the real winner, political analysts say, is his alliance partner Lalu Yadav, a populist politician who rose to political stardom during the heyday of the Mandal-era caste-based politics, but who had been languishing in wilderness for almost a decade. Much to the surprise of many, Lalu Prashad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal did much better than Mr Kumar’s JD (United), fueling speculation that the shrewd Bihar politician, known for his sharp one-liners, will be pulling the strings from behind as Nitish Kumar look set to helm the state for a record third time. The Grand alliance comprises Mr Kumar’s party JD(U), RJD (which is led by former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav) and the Indian National Congress.
What worked for GA
The complex caste arithmetic of the state worked in favour of the Grand Alliance, with the consolidation of Yadav, Muslim and Kurmi voters in its favour. Mr Kumar’s credentials as a development-centric politician, with a clean image and a record of progressive governance, reinforced the winning MYK combination, and account for the decisive majority for GA.
Why BJP lost
On the other hand, many things went wrong for the BJP, and a series of missteps explain the party’s drubbing in the Bihar polls. Analysts say that the party leaders’ personalised attacks against Nitish Kumar, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks against the reservation policy and the attempt to communalise the agenda by fringe sections of Hindu zealots, loosely allied with the ruling party, and the lack of a chief ministerial face were key reasons for the party’s electoral debacle.
The electoral defeat in a major Hindi heartland state is bad news for the BJP, and should serve as a cautionary tale for strategists of the party who seem to have run out of their magic tricks. But if the right lessons are drawn and the disconnect between grand plans and action is bridged, the ruling party can prevent a recurrence of this failure in the elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, which will hold the key to the 2019 national elections.
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