Patna, November 24: It was billed as a watershed election - where development was taking on a formidable opponent in the politics of caste.
The clean sweep for Nitish Kumar and the BJP - and the complete decimation of Lalu Prasad Yadav - shows that the fight was hardly a close one.
This is Bihar’s ’nayi kahani,’ said Nitish, at a press conference in Patna this afternoon. He was typically understated - after it became clear early in the morning that he’d be back in office, there were no fireworks or ladoos being distributed outside his residence - the usual signs that herald political victories in India.
And what a victory it was - the most decisive mandate ever for Bihar. With the BJP, Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) won 206 of the 243 seats. Lalu’s alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan ended the day with 25 seats, down 39 from the last election.
At a lengthy interaction with reporters, Nitish said , "Voters had to choose between progress or antiquated politics. They have chosen to surge ahead." And then came the swipe at Lalu Prasad Yadav. "The people whose strategies were based on caste and religion have been left disappointed.’’
The BJP’s performance has surpassed expectations, adding 36 to its tally in the last elections. ’’If Bihar can vote for development and rise above caste, then this can happen in the whole country,’’ said Prakash Javadekar, spokesperson for the party
Development has been Nitish’s mantra throughout the election. A few days ago, at his residence, he said that if he lost these elections, development would disappear forever as a campaign issue in his home state.
So compelling was Nitish’s point - and his sincerity in stressing it- that every party moved quickly to add D for Development to their lexicons and rallies.
The Congress brought in Rahul Gandhi to campaign extensively, banking on his appeal as a young leader committed to progress. But unlike UP, the Rahul factor went virtually unnoticed in Bihar - which was quickly highlighted by the BJP in its victory speech today.
’’Our Opposition has not been able to understand what people want," said the BJP’s Arun Jaitley. "They thought that on the basis of the family name, they can win elections. This is a victory of meritorious leadership over dynastic politics."
But there’s another point that the BJP cannot help but take notice of, even if it cannot be publicly acknowledged. The party’s big numbers in Bihar have been hit without the man believed to be one of its most charismatic and effective campaigners- Narendra Modi. The Chief Minister of Gujarat was told Bihar was off-limits to him by Nitish, who wanted to take no chances with his secular image.
Nitish Kumar ended his press conference by stating, with typical prudence, that Bihar’s problems are far from solved. "I can promise one thing - we will work even harder than we have in the last five years," he said. "We will be tested- and we will face those tests together."