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 Friday in the Bihar assembly elections, granting the chief minister a record third term in office.
At the time of going to print, the Grand Alliance of RJD, JD-U and Congress, had either won or were leading in 178 seats in the 243-member assembly, while the BJP and its allies had got just 58.
The extent of the defeat 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.
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 on 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”.
FE Bureau adds: The BJP-led alliance’s drubbing in the politically crucial state could make the Opposition even more intransigent in not extending support to the Modi government’s legislative agenda for economic reforms. The Upper House’s approval for the GST Constitutional Amendment Bill, cleared by the Lok Sabha in May, could continue to be elusive. The government had to abandon the plan to make land acquisition by the industry for public purpose easier and restore the the UPA government’s law that included consent and social impact assessment clauses in the wake of a high-pitched Opposition campaign against it. In this regard and also in reforming the labour laws, Modi may now have to increase the pressure on the BJP-ruled states to get at least some of these industry-friendly proposals implemented. In case of the road map laid out for salvaging the debt-laden state electricity boards too, the cooperation of state government would be crucial.
While the electoral reverses could have a sobering effect on the Modi dispensation, analysts believe the government managers could turn to be more accommodative of the views from the Opposition and extend a hand of friendship to the Opposition to implement its reform agenda. The proposed bankruptcy code that is meant to expedite the process for redeploying the stressed assets and putting them into productive use, is going to tabled either in the winter session or the subsequent Budget session of Parliament. The proposals in the code to give more powers to creditors to recover their dues from sick/defaulting companies could also potentially stumble. Some provisions likely to be included in the code, like letting even unsecured creditors precedence over other government agencies and the taxman on the assets of the firms in question, are potential sources of discord.
However, there are still a lot that the government could do by way of executive decisions/orders. The proposed process to phase out many tax exemptions don’t really face any big threat from the Opposition as these are to be part of the Finance Bill, which usually is not resisted beyond a point. Frther liberalisation of the FDI norms could also be carried out by government orders. Expenditure reforms like the ones involving reduction of subsidies on urea could, too, hit political hurdle although these don’t require Parliament approval.