An Election in Bihar this October Could Change Everything for the BJP


With the Monsoon session of India’s parliament ending on a bitter note between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress Party, the next battleground in Indian politics will be the upcoming Bihar elections in October.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came under severe attacks in the just-concluded parliamentary session for keeping silent on political impropriety.

Modi’s critics have dented the image of the all-powerful prime minister, who came to power in May last year, promising to put a halt to corruption.

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The once-doting media has also become critical of the BJP leader’s silence given that disruptions in parliament are blocking important legislation from passing, including the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The Indian National Congress, which faced a humiliating defeat in the last general election, managed to galvanize the opposition bench despite having few legislators itself.

With the Indian economy not showing the sort of remarkable improvement promised by Modi before coming to power and the failure of the government to initiate radical economic reforms to boost Indian industry, the private sector is also losing faith in the regime.

There is now an open discussion in the Indian media about the real potential of the Modi regime—whether it can deliver on the promises it made before the elections last year.

In just over a year, the credibility of the prime minister has come under question. Questions have arisen about whether the BJP can really deliver on growth. If it doesn’t, the party may have a difficult time lasting through India’s next general election.

In particular, the upcoming elections in Bihar in October may decide the fate of the BJP across much of the country—they will serve as a referendum of sorts on the Modi brand.

The election date remains unclear, but Modi has already made two back-to-back trips to Bihar, all within the span of a week.

Riding on the Modi wave, the eastern Indian state gave the BJP 31 out of 40 parliamentary seats last year. If the trend of the general elections continues the right-wing party should get more than two-thirds of the 243 seats in the local assembly.

However, repeating last May’s performance won’t be easy. A formidable challenge exists now in the form of an alliance between two regional parties—the ruling Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), backed by the Congress Party. On paper, the alliance looks quite strong. In fact, it may be poised to deal the BJP a humiliating defeat in Bihar.

Predicting election outcomes in Bihar is not easy, however. The challenge for the BJP is to sell its developmental agenda in the state. With little to show for its efforts in New Delhi, Bihari voters may find it difficult to throw their support behind the BJP.

Be it victory or defeat, the Bihar elections will have important implications for the political fortunes of the BJP. If it loses, it will add steam to efforts by the opposition to portray the ruling party as unfit for government. If it wins, it will be a referendum in favor of the prime minister’s development agenda. Additionally, a victory in Bihar may place the BJP well for further forays into the Indian east, including West Bengal and the northeastern states. The stakes could not be higher for the BJP.

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