Modi’s alliance retains key India state in tight poll fight

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations at the historic Red Fort in Delhi, India, August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, which is in coalition with the ruling alliance in Bihar, retained control of the eastern state after an election battle that went down to the wire.

The final vote count overnight saw the ruling alliance pull ahead with 125 seats in the 243-member state assembly. The opposition grouping, led by the charismatic 31-year-old politician Tejashwi Yadav, won 110 seats.

It was the first test for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party since the Covid-19 pandemic struck and India went on to become the world’s second worst-affected country, with more than 8.5 million infections and an economy experiencing the sharpest dive in decades.

India’s benchmark equity index extended gains from a record after the result was announced, adding to positive sentiment amid a pick up in business activity. The S&P BSE Sensex advanced 0.7% to 43,591.69 as of 10:40 a.m. in Mumbai, while the NSE Nifty 50 Index climbed by a similar magnitude. Both measures are set for their longest winning streak in a month that’s sent them to new highs since Monday.

Modi had been the main campaigner ahead of the polls, with chief minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) party facing an anti-incumbency wave after three straight terms in office. The prime minister inaugurated $5.5 billion in infrastructure projects in the state over just two weeks in September in his efforts to woo voters.

In a tweet sent overnight, Modi thanked the voters of Bihar whose “blessings resulted in this win for democracy once more.”

“People have reposed faith on the continued leadership of Modi and his chosen ally and with this Modi regains momentum,” said Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor of history at Ashoka University. “Now it will be more a assertive BJP and a stronger ruling coalition. They will look forward to giving tough fights in other state elections.”

Bihar is India’s poorest state, but with a population larger than any nation in the European Union it sends 40 lawmakers to federal parliament, giving it outsize political importance.

The BJP has been facing tougher-than-expected battles in the state polls that have followed Modi’s sweeping victory to a second term in office in May 2019. Its alliance in Maharashtra, India’s wealthiest state, fell apart soon after polls there last year. It lost power in Rajasthan and Jharkhand and had to cobble together a new coalition in the northern Haryana state.

As the first election since the pandemic and the federal government’s announcement of sweeping farm reforms, “the win in Bihar indicates Prime Minister Modi remains popular, and is likely to enhance the BJP’s standing in the state,” brokerage firm Nomura Holding said in a research note.



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