The resounding victory of the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad-led Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in the Bihar Assembly polls is likely to unite the Opposition on the national stage, deepen the friction between the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Opposition and create more fault lines in Parliament.
Grand Alliance won 178 seats in the 243-seat Assembly, an overwhelming majority, according to the Election Commission of India. The NDA, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), bagged only 58 seats - a defeat that could make it harder for the central government to move ahead with its economic agenda.
Managers in BJP were hoping for some political leverage in the Rajya Sabha in the event of a Bihar victory (though NDA would have continued to be in a numerical minority even if it had won the election). However, it is clear that the Opposition, if anything, will now be even more emboldened to block government initiatives in the Upper House. This puts a question mark on further moves on the goods and services tax (GST), the future of the bankruptcy code (on which the Congress has many questions) and other legislation that need the assent of the Rajya Sabha.
Political observers say the magnitude of the bruising loss has dented the powerful image of Modi and a defeat by such a wide margin shows the aura of invincibility around the prime minister is fading. Three major parties, including the Congress, set aside their differences and joined hands to fight Modi and the success of this model could drive Opposition parties to unite against BJP in Parliament, and in future state elections - and also offer a formula for the 2019 general elections.
Equations in the Opposition will now change, leading to greater coordination. Nitish Kumar might become the fulcrum of the Opposition; he will be more acceptable to regional leaders, such as the Trinamool Congress' Mamata Banerjee and the Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal, than the Congress, the principal Opposition party in many states. The Samajwadi Party (SP), which did not stay in Grand Alliance to fight the Bihar elections, is likely to review its position after the victory. Even with SP on the fence, the ranks of the core opposition to NDA would swell with Nitish Kumar in a leadership position.
The stronger and more vocal presence of the Rashtriya Janata Dal's Lalu Prasad could now mean a tougher collective position by the Opposition on the issue of secularism. The debate on beef, cow protection, minority protection, etc, is likely to now get an added political edge. "We will start a nationwide movement against BJP. Bihar has given a new direction to the entire country. We will oust the Narendra Modi government," Lalu Prasad said at a press conference in Patna on Sunday.
The victory is also a shot in the arm for the Congress, which won 27 of the 41 seats on which it contested the Bihar election - and much more for the party's vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, who had taken the initiative of bringing Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar together.
A glowing Gandhi told the media that he wanted "Modi ji to tone down his arrogance as it will be good for him and for the nation as well".
Equations might also change subtly in both the government and BJP as an organisation. On Sunday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured Bihar suo motu that the promise of the Bihar package made publicly by Modi would be kept. This was a reminder to the PM and an acknowledgment of the changed political dynamics. BJP President Amit Shah is likely to get another term when the current one ends with the current year - but the decision might not be easy. Talks have already started in BJP that though the party constitution mandates a meeting of the national executive once every three months, not a single meeting has been held since Shah took over as president, an indication of the centralisation of decision making.
Suggestions are also being made in some quarters within the party that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat's remarks seeking review of the reservation policy was responsible for BJP's reverses. The biggest victim of the electoral loss in BJP will be former Bihar finance minister Sushil Modi, as he will have to shoulder much of the blame for candidate selection. General Secretary Muralidhar Rao has already demanded action against R K Singh, former Union home secretary and now the member of Parliament from Buxar, for his remarks midway through the election that tickets in BJP were bought and sold.
However, no heads had rolled in BJP even after its Delhi debacle, where it had won only three of the 70 Assembly seats. So, a demand for accountability is unlikely in the case of Bihar. Now, BJP could be under pressure from its alliance partners, too. No meeting of the NDA coordination committee has been held since the government came to power. Conscious that it is a powerful partner and the Maharashtra government might not survive without it, the Shiv Sena has already voiced grave concerns at BJP's electoral debacle in Bihar.
Needless to say the winter session of Parliament - the dates for it will be finalised on Monday - will be a write-off. "Eighteen months and half the policies of the government have either been withdrawn or turned down by courts…," said a prominent Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha. "This government is surviving now because the law does not permit splits. When the two most powerful leaders in a party demonstrate they cannot pull votes, members of the party begin to get restive".