08/11/2015 3:19 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Nitish-Lalu Win Bihar, BJP Bites The Dust

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
PATNA, INDIA - NOVEMBER 7: Special ladoos being made for Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar by the order of JDU leaders on the eve of Bihar election, on November 7, 2015 in Patna, India. RJD Chief Lalu Yadav said he was confident that his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the JD-U combine will win 190 of the 243 seats in the Bihar assembly. Bihar voted in five phases starting in October and ending earlier this week; the results will be counted on Sunday. The five-phase polling in the state of Bihar ended on November 6. Official results will be announced on November 8. (Photo by AP Dube/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- Setting aside 15 years of bitter rivalry, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav came together to take a stand against the Bharatiya Janata Party, which ultimately counted.

Along with the Congress Party, their coalition has trounced the BJP and its allies in the Bihar State Election, a long drawn-out battle from which the heat and dust carried very far, and one that was fought over important questions for India's political future.

Early trends today put BJP in the lead with the JD(U)-RJD trailing. But the scenario began to dramatically change shortly after 10:00 a.m, with the Grand Alliance starting to pull ahead. By four in the afternoon, the Grand Alliance was leading in 177 seats, BJP in 59, and others in seven.

For those following counting day coverage, things got confusing as television channels broadcasted widely differing numbers. NDTV even called the election in BJP's favour, only to retract later.

"The victory is a very big victory," Kumar said at a press conference on Sunday afternoon.

Around noon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to congratulate him for winning the Bihar polls.

The results come as a blow to Modi, who thrust himself to the forefront of the campaign, discarding local faces, addressing an unprecedented number of rallies and also electioneering along communal and caste lines. His close aide and BJP president Amit Shah will also find his absolute dominance over the party questioned.

"It is a defeat for the BJP, it is a defeat for Narendra Modi. And it is a defeat for the saam, daam, dand, bhed politics of Amit Shah,” said Pavan Kumar Varma, Janata Dal (United) spokesperson.

What started out as a battle over the "development agenda" for Bihar, quickly deteriorated into a massive exercise of caste and communal polarisation, which panned out over months of relentless campaigning since the summer.

The Bihar State Election boiled down to a popularity contest between three Herculean figures - Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav--fighting tooth and nail and staking their pride in an all-out contest.

While the stakes were high for the BJP and Modi, it was virtually a do or die situation for both Kumar and Yadav.

The Indian National Congress, which stitched together the Grand Alliance, also did exceedingly well, leading in 24 seats at the time of writing. In 2010 Assembly Polls, it had won 4 seats. In 2014 national election, it won 2.

Setback for Modi-Shah

The Bihar defeat, coming on the heels of the decimation in Delhi earlier this year, dims the spark of the Modi-Shah electoral invincibility. BJP had won 91 seats in Bihar in 2010 and 22 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014, with a 30 percent vote share.

The BJP, which has never formed the government in Bihar, was a junior partner to JD(U) prior to 2014 general elections. In the run-up to the polls, Kumar parted ways with BJP and as the Modi wave swept India in the summer of 2014, Kumar hit rockbottom, winning just two seats.

As Kumar and Yadav came together with the Congress against the BJP, the latter responded by throwing resources and its star campaigner--the Prime Minister--into the electoral field. And as the long campaign frayed nerves, communal polarisation became an election plank, in the midst of what is seen to be a rising intolerance in the country.

Colourful epithets were employed liberally. When Shah called Yadav a 'Fodder Thief', he responded in kind, calling Shah a 'Man-eater,' who has lost his mind.

Modi said that Yadav and Kumar were conspiring to take away job reservations from lower castes and hand them over to Muslims, without naming the community. Shah said if the BJP lost, crackers would go off in Pakistan. There was also a lot of talk of beef eating after Yadav introduced the issue into the state elections following the Dadri lynching.

"This election has showed that this country does not like the politics of hate. They have slapped those who promote the politics of hate," said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. "This election has broken the dictatorship of Amit Shah and Modi."

"This defeat calls for a serious rethink," said Ram Madhav, BJP's National General Secretary.

Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan, who had allied with the BJP, was critical of the communal polarisation which was injected in Bihar. He told Times Now that "certain comments" were unnecessary.

Mohan Bhagwat's comment about reservations--that a rethink is necessary--might have proved expensive for the BJP. By the time Bhagwat tried to feebly backtrack, BJP's rivals especially Yadav had milked the faux pas.

As Madhav suggests, this defeat should lead to serious introspection within the BJP, which clearly didn't happen after the huge loss the party suffered in the Delhi Election. The BJP treated it as a freak event as the AAP was a new party that played unconventional politics.

The victory in Bihar will likely be a first in a series of experiments by regional leaders to put up alternative fronts to the BJP as Congress Party has ceased to be a major electoral force in many states.

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