Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done it again. As tallies of the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Tejashwi Yadav-led Grand Alliance oscillated through the day in Bihar, the BJP consistently made gains in the state assembly election and by-polls in other states.
Fighting the elections under Modi’s shadow paid off for the NDA in Bihar, where the BJP gained seats, improving its strike rate, while its senior partner JD (U)’s numbers dropped drastically. Meanwhile, the BJP was on a winning streak in bypolls in states, decimating the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka. It also won six out of seven seats in Uttar Pradesh bypolls, wrested a seat from the TRS in Telangana, won two seats in Manipur and one in Nagaland. The first election post-pandemic reinforced the Prime Minister’s popularity.
After 15 years in power, Kumar’s party seemed to be slipping to the third position in the seat after the RJD and the BJP, as counting went late into the night, with the Election Commission reducing the number of counting tables from 14 to seven in view of Covid-19. JD-U, faced with an incumbent disadvantage, was further hurt by Chirag Paswan’s LJP cutting into its vote share. The LJP, which had walked out of NDA protesting against Kumar, put up candidates mostly against the JD (U) but not BJP. Paswan’s strategy, however, boomeranged, decimating his own party.
The other young leader in the Bihar battleground, Tejashwi Yadav, the 31-year-old younger son of jailed former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, is giving the NDA a tough fight. The NDA had won 39 of the 40 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, casting a shadow on Tejashwi’s leadership. The BJP and RJD are now locked in a tight contest to compete to be the single largest party, as the results go down to the wire. If the NDA makes it to the magic figure, Kumar is still likely to be the chief minister, but with altered terms of engagement as the JD-U becomes a junior partner.
On the Opposition side, the Congress suffered losses, which it blames on AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi saying it was at the behest of the BJP. Interestingly, besides the BJP, the party which made significant gains in the state with a strike rate as high as that of BJP, is the extreme left CPI-ML, regaining some of its lost ground in the state. The party contested 19 seats in alliance with the RJD. The CPI-ML had won three seats in 2015 and it 2010 it had drawn a blank.
Kumar, apparently sensing his popularity had waned, had let Modi take centre stage. In the absence of a chief ministerial face in the BJP, the party fought the elections with Modi in the forefront, banking on his credibility. The Prime Minister held around a dozen rallies in the run-up to the assembly polls. For the BJP, after the disappointments in Maharashtra and Jharkhand last year, the results are bound to be encouraging. The party’s next big battle is in West Bengal, where it takes on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress.