Patna: In a verdict that is bound to have a national impact, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD leader Lalu Prasad on Sunday trounced the BJP to win the bitterly fought Bihar assembly polls and deliver a major blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led his party’s challenge.
In contrast to what most exit polls had said, the Grand Alliance of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress was poised to sweep a whopping 178 of the 243 seats, leaving the BJP -- which wanted to oust Nitish Kumar -- and its allies with just 59 seats.
By late evening, the RJD and JD-U had won 51 seats each and were leading in 29 and 20 respectively. The Congress had won 20 seats and was ahead in seven. The BJP was the winner in 35 constituencies and was leading in 18.
The much-maligned Lalu Prasad’s RJD is tipped to end up as the single biggest party with 80 seats followed closely by Nitish Kumar’s JD-U with 71 seats. The Congress would get 27 seats.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s three allies -- the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) -- could together bag only six seats.
"This is a very big victory. We accept it with humility," Nitish Kumar said in his first comments. "From the national perspective, the result is significant."
Lalu Prasad, who the BJP targeted more viciously during the election campaign, was more emphatic. He called Modi “a RSS pracharak” and vowed to mount a nationwide campaign against the BJP-led central government.
Lalu Prasad also made it clear that although his party had more seats than the JD-U, Nitish Kumar would be the chief minister.
A sombre Modi telephoned Nitish Kumar and congratulated him. So did a stream of opposition leaders from across the country, indicating that the ramifications of the Bihar outcome was already being felt.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the BJP's defeat was a "victory of tolerance, defeat of intolerance". Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal hailed Nitish Kumar on "this historic victory".
Kejriwal also said the BJP-led coalition's defeat was a referendum on Modi's "work and working style". He added: "The results prove that people do not approve of the politics of hatred."
The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s junior but bitter ally in Maharashtra, said the BJP must accept that the defeat was Modi's doing. Calling Nitish Kumar "a political hero", it said the Bihar result "will be a turning point in the country's political future".
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah too said that the verdict Â“will prove critical for the nation in the days ahead".
Even as former BJP deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said his party would be “a constructive opposition”, Bollywood veteran and BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha -- unhappy over being sidelined by party president Amit Shah -- called the BJP defeat “a victory for democracy and the people of Bihar... The writing was always on the wall".
The BJP conceded defeat. "This is not an outcome we expected," its general secretary Ram Madhav said. "This defeat calls for serious thinking."
Union minister Prakash Javadekar blamed the defeat on BJP's "alliance arithmetic". Its vice president Prabhat Jha said: "We failed to understand people's mind. We will have to change our election strategy."
Compared to the number of assembly segments it led in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP lost every second seat.
JD-U's Pavan Verma targeted Modi. "It is a defeat for Modi and (BJP president) Amit Shah." MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, whose MIM contested six seats and lost all, also said: "It is a personal defeat for Modi as never before has a prime minister campaigned so much in a (state) election."
The JD-U, the RJD and the Congress grabbed over 41 percent of all the votes in the five-phased ections that began on October 12 and concluded on November 5. The BJP alliance got 38 percent.
As the vote count began at 8 a.m. across Bihar, initially it seemed that the BJP and its allies were forging ahead. But the picture changed soon as the Grand Alliance clawed back strongly.
Thousands of jubilant JD-U, RJD and Congress activists then celebrated even as gloom descended in the BJP camp. India Inc welcomed the results.
It is the BJP's second straight defeat in state elections since the Aam Aadmi Party routed it in Delhi in February.
Asked how the Grand Alliance overcame the BJP, JD-U leader Nawal Sharma told IANS: "Nitish's glittering face and Lalu's strong base got us the numbers. All the polarising (bids) of BJP - Dadri, Pakistan, cow, beef - have hit them hard."