US Reacts with Caution to Bihar Defeat of Indian PM Modi

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Washington, DC – The United States reacted in a cautious and diplomatic way to the heavy defeat of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday in a key election in India’s third-most populous state, signaling the change of winds in democratically active India.

A Department of State spokesperson told India America Today, “We commend the conduct of free and fair elections.” The spokesperson added, “We continue to work closely with the Government of India at all levels.”

According to the political pundits in Washington, globe-trotting Indian Prime Minister Modi’s second straight regional election setback would give a fresh boost to the opposition parties, empower rivals in his own party and slowly but steadily diminish his standing with foreign leaders amidst concern he may not win a second term as prime minister.

Richard M. Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in US India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “This loss will clearly galvanize opposition parties who sense weakness. Bihar is the second consecutive state election that the BJP lost, despite having won a majority of Lok Sabha seats from Bihar (22 of 40). In Delhi, of course, the BJP won all 7 Lok Sabha seats, yet won only 3 of 70 state assembly seats less than a year later.”

On the internal factional schisms, Rossow didn’t believe, “this loss will create space for serious rivals within the BJP. While there is an alternative coterie from the days of Vajpayee and Advani’s leadership, this group has been weakened and often removed from positions of actual power.”

As some sounded alarm on the international standing of jet-setting Indian Prime Minister Modi’s record breaking visits to other countries, Rossow was more subdued saying, “This election result is unlikely to dramatically change the approach of foreign governments in dealing with India. The Modi government still has more than three years left in this term of office. There are many key things happening in this timeframe, including a WTO round, COP21 talks, and more.”

There was, however, a well-calculated caution in Rossow’s statement as he added, “But foreign leaders may pay a bit more attention to ensure they remain connected with Congress and powerful regional parties in India to hedge their bets- which is a good strategy, anyhow.”

Echoing the word of the US State Department spokesperson, Rossow acknowledged the holding of free and fair elections in the thriving Indian democratic system saying, “I am generally happy for the people of Bihar. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has initiated a strong turnaround in Bihar, evident across a range of indicators. Having him remain in power gives stability in governance, as well as solid direction. I want to see the state’s 100 million people progress with the rest of the country. I just hope that the influence of Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose RJD party won more seats than the JD(U), can be minimized by the chief minister.”

In this Bihar election, considered the most significant since he won power 18 months ago, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crashed to defeat after running a controversial campaign that sought to polarize voters along caste and religious lines. The figures spoke for themselves as a rough tally suggested that more than 90 top party figures addressed 600 rallies costing the party millions.

This election pitted Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to win against the “Mahagatbandhan”, or the “grand alliance” of anti-BJP parties including the Indian National Congress, and Modi campaigned on a war-footing.

According to data released by the Election Commission of India, the anti-BJP front won nearly three-quarters of the seats (178 out of 243) in the Bihar state assembly but the damage was more to Modi and his reform agenda.

The BJP is in a minority in the upper house of parliament, where seats are allocated according to a party’s strength in the states, enabling the opposition to block reforms, including the biggest overhaul of taxes since independence in 1947.

Interesting to note that the grand show on the West Coast of the US failed to impress voters in Bihar like earlier one from Maddison Square Garden did for some other states, proving Indian voters are ready to look beyond words from foreign lands and awe-inspiring visits, paid for by Indian taxpayers.

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