The bruising defeat for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bihar signals the need for his party to move away from an over-emphasis on communal politics and help him deliver on his agenda of development that had endeared him to many voters across the country just 18 months ago.
He began his campaign with the promise to pull millions of Bihar’s people out of poverty but, as the race tightened, shifted to appealing to religious and caste alliances.
It was a cardinal mistake from a man who they had once thought would accelerate the economic transformation of a region blighted by decades of poverty.
Instead, the rhetoric of his party leaders reflected unbridled Hindutva triumphalism and their campaign descended into a communally-charged polarising tactic that sought to split voters on religious lines.
The sweeping, nation-wide debate over intolerance could have only added to the sense of alienation among voters who, on the other hand, were wooed by the Grand Alliance with the message of communal harmony.
Growing focus by the BJP and its right-wing allies on the promotion of a conservative Hindu social and cultural agenda has already made it harder for Modi to pursue his economic programme. The Bihar results only go to show that people are beginning to see this as clouding the priorities of his government.
A key fault in the BJP campaign also lay in the overdependence on ‘Brand Modi’. The Bihar verdict showed the need for the BJP to find credible, strong state-level faces to lead the party. For, politically astute voters in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala would find a face-less local campaign by any party unappealing.
The victory of the Grand Alliance is also a sign of voter confidence in the alternative development model of Nitish Kumar, who had in his stints as chief minister fought on the plank of “bijli, sadak, pani” as well as the promise to improve Bihar’s standing on every social indicator.
Coming after the bruising defeat in Delhi, the Bihar debacle may have suitably chastened the BJP and, perhaps, will only help the party and Modi refocus on what they had been voted into power for: “Sabka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas”.