Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Grand Alliance scored a stunning win on Sunday in the assembly elections, dealing a major blow to the BJP and sparking opposition attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led his party’s challenge in the bitterly contested battle.
A sombre Modi telephoned JD-U leader Nitish Kumar and congratulated him as the Grand Alliance – which also includes the RJD of Lalu Prasad and the Congress – was poised to win 161 of the 243 seats, leaving the BJP-led four-party combine with just 74 seats.
Smaller parties including the BSP and the CPI-ML were set to win eight seats.
The Grand Alliance was just one short of a two-third majority to give Nitish Kumar his third straight victory in Bihar.
The JD-U, the RJD and the Congress grabbed over 41 percent of all the votes in the five-phased ections that began on October 12 and concluded on November 5. The BJP alliance got 38 percent.
The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s junior ally in Maharashtra, joined Chief Ministers Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi and Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal as well as former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah in hailing the Grand Alliance win and taking a dig at Modi.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was confident of ousting Nitish Kumar, admitted its calculations had gone wrong in one of the toughest state elections in recent times.
“This is not an outcome we expected,” BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said. “The Grand Alliance has done much better than what we thought. This defeat calls for serious thinking. We need time to analyse.”
Union minister Prakash Javadekar sought to blame the BJP’s allies. “The BJP lost only because of alliance arithmetic.” BJP vice president Prabhat Jha added: “We failed to understand people’s mind. We will have to change our election strategy.”
Compared to the number of assembly segments it led in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP lost every second seat.
JD-U’s Pavan Verma said: “It is a defeat for Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah.”
MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, whose party contested from six constituencies and lost everywhere, also said: “It is a personal defeat for Modi as never before has a prime minister campaigned so much in a (state) election.”
In contrast to claims that it would form the government in Bihar, the BJP ended up being the third largest party in the Bihar house. And though both the JD-U and RJD contested 101 seats each, it was the RJD that emerged the single largest party with 77 seats followed by JD-U’s 66.
But Lalu Prasad has declared that Nitish Kumar would be the chief minister irrespective of whether his party wins more or less seats than the JD-U.
The Congress was set to grab 15 seats, followed by BJP allies Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) with five, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) three and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) also with three seats.
As the vote count began at 8 a.m. across Bihar on Sunday, initially it appeared that the BJP and its allies were forging ahead. But the picture changed soon as the Grand Alliance clawed back strongly.
Thousands of jubilant JD-U, RJD and Congress activists celebrated in Patna. Party leaders and workers consumed and distributed sweets, burst firecrackers, smeared ‘holi’ colour on one another and danced to drums.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the BJP’s defeat was a “victory of tolerance, defeat of intolerance”. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal congratulated Nitish Kumar on “this historic victory”. Both Banerjee and Kejriwal came out in support of Nitish Kumar during the election.
The Shiv Sena said the BJP must accept that the Bihar defeat was Modi’s doing. It hailed Nitish Kumar as “a political hero” and said the outcome “will be a turning point in the country’s political future”.
Omar Abdullah too said in a tweet to Nitish Kumar: “Your victory will prove critical for the nation in the days ahead.”
BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha, who had been taking potshots at the BJP leaders for sidelining him, also fired a salvo.
The veteran Bollywood actor tweeted: “It is a victory of democracy and the people of Bihar. I salute them… The writing was always on the wall… Salute once again to Biharis.”
It is the BJP’s second straight defeat in state elections since the Aam Aadmi Party routed it in Delhi in February.
BJP leaders were hopeful of turning the tide in Bihar, to prove that the Delhi defeat was a fluke. It didn’t happen that way.
Asked how the Grand Alliance beat back the aggressive campaigning by Modi and Amit Shah’s micro-management of the election, JD-U leader Nawal Sharma told media: “Nitish’s glittering face and Lalu’s strong base got us these numbers. All the polarising (bids) of BJP — Dadri, Pakistan, cow, beef — have hit them hard.”