Ahead of the opposition grand alliance by a whisker, Kumar was headed for a likely fourth consecutive term in the government after a surprise show by the BJP, according to Election Commission trends
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, appeared on course to making history in Bihar on Tuesday, confounding poll predictions.
Ahead of the opposition grand alliance by a whisker, Kumar was headed for a likely fourth consecutive term in the government after a surprise show by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to Election Commission (EC) trends late Tuesday evening.
Once again, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) looked headed to be the single largest party with leads in 77 seats, but the Mahagathbandhan it leads trailed the NDA, although by fewer than 10 seats.
Within the ruling alliance, the BJP emerged as the biggest party, putting Kumar on the path to becoming the longest-serving NDA chief minister.
The BJP not only outdid Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JD(U) but was breathing down RJD’s neck to be the single largest political party in Bihar. While pollsters predicted a clear majority for the RJD-led grand alliance, the real winner could be the BJP, if it strengthens the NDA’s chances of forming the government and its own prospects of becoming the dominant partner in the government.
“NDA was always on course to win. We were expecting some more seats, but it is clear the NDA will form the government once again. There was a misinformation campaign against the NDA, and the same people are now spreading false information to malign the image of the NDA. The NDA contested under chief minister Nitish Kumar, and he will again be the chief minister," said a senior BJP leader, requesting anonymity.
Senior leaders of the BJP and JD(U) met at Kumar’s residence to discuss the future course of action.
The probable return of the NDA under Kumar is also significant because the ruling alliance has managed to retain its electoral performance from the 2015 assembly polls when they contested separately. While the NDA had 125 seats in the assembly prior to the polls, this time the alliance appeared inching towards a simple majority of 122 seats, with leads in at least 122 seats.
With Kumar facing anti-incumbency and the challenge of reverse migration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the charge for the NDA in the hustings, holding at least 12 public meetings in different regions of Bihar.
The BJP was the clear beneficiary, emerging as the only significant political party to have improved its electoral performance substantially, while the RJD, JD(U) and Congress all lost seats. The BJP, which had won 53 seats in 2015, was leading in 72 seats. For the first time since the NDA came to power in 2005, the JD(U) had slipped to the third position with leads in 42 seats.
The likely win is also significant as the NDA faced a divide after the Lok JanShakti Party (LJP) decided to contest against the JD(U), creating difficulties for the ruling alliance.
“This election has shown (RJD leader) Tejashwi Yadav has carried his father Lalu Prasad’s political legacy forward, but it is also an indicator of how limited this leadership transition could be if he is not able to expand the party’s support base," a senior Mahagathbandhan leader from Bihar said, requesting anonymity.
However, even in the face of a probable loss, the election has cemented 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav’s leadership position not just within RJD but also as a young opposition leader to watch out for.
While senior opposition leaders feel that the party could be entering a new phase of politics with a narrative around development and jobs, they add that going forth Yadav’s key challenge would be to expand RJD’s social base beyond the current appeal to limited social groups.