On this storyAccording to the election commission, the “grand alliance” of Nitish Kumar, the current chief minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, a former chief minister convicted of corruption, and the Congress party had won or was leading in nearly three-quarters of the 243 seats.
Mr Modi conceded defeat in the afternoon, and Mr Kumar and Mr Yadav immediately predicted the rise of a nationwide political front to oppose Mr Modi. The populist Mr Yadav said he would “tour the country and form a people’s movement against the Modi government”.
Early in the morning, initial projections of a BJP win prompted party members into premature celebrations at their Patna headquarters, where they lit firecrackers and blew the conch-shells used in Hindu ceremonies, but the cheering crowds evaporated as official results came in.
Bihar is one of the poorest states in India, but also one of the largest: if it were a nation its population of 110m would make it the world’s 12th largest, just behind Mexico.
The loss in Bihar will be a blow to the confidence of Mr Modi and fellow leaders of the Hindu nationalist BJP only 18 months after they triumphed in the 2014 general election. In the Bihar campaign, they sought in vain to galvanise Hindu voters by focusing as much on caste and religion as on development, but appear to have ended up alienating moderate Hindus as well as members of the Muslim minority.
As in the Delhi state election, where the BJP was crushed by the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi (Common People) party in February, the BJP won a substantial share of the vote but was unable to translate that into assembly seats in the face of a united opposition in the first-past-the-post constituency system.
Mr Kumar and Mr Yadav — who together defeated Mr Modi with the help of Congress by pooling their resources and sharing out constituencies before the election — make an unlikely couple and their government may prove unstable. Mr Kumar, once a BJP ally, has been credited with restoring order and investing in roads and education over the past decade, after a period of violence, criminality and extreme corruption known as the “jungle raj” when the state was run by Mr Yadav and his wife.
But the BJP’s defeat will make it harder for Mr Modi to gain control of India’s Rajya Sabha, or upper house of parliament, because the house’s make-up depends on party weights in state assemblies. Mr Modi’s opponents have used the Rajya Sabha successfully to block legislation, including a long-awaited law to introduce a nationwide goods and services tax that would make the country into a single market and simplify commerce.
Rahul Gandhi of Congress, a junior partner in the winning Bihar alliance, said the election result was “a message against pitting Hindus against Muslims and making them fight to win elections”.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become arrogant,” Mr Gandhi said. “Modi should stop campaigning and start working. He should also stop foreign tours and instead go and meet farmers, labourers and youth to whom he promised jobs.”
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