Modi's alliance retains key India state Bihar after close poll fight

BJP supporters celebrate after learning of the initial poll results of the Bihar state assembly election in Gandhinagar on Nov 10, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, which is in coalition with the ruling alliance in Bihar, retained control of the eastern state after an election battle that went down to the wire.

The final vote count, which was slowed significantly by Covid-19 protocols, saw the ruling alliance pull ahead with 125 seats in the 243-member state assembly. The opposition grouping, led by the charismatic 31-year-old politician Tejashwi Yadav, won 110 seats.

It was the first test for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party since the Covid-19 pandemic struck and India went on to become the world's second worst-affected country, with more than 8.5 million infections and an economy experiencing the sharpest dive in decades.

In a tweet sent overnight, Modi thanked the voters of Bihar whose "blessings resulted in this win for democracy once more." Bihar is India's poorest state, but with a population larger than any nation in the European Union it sends 40 lawmakers to Federal Parliament, giving it outsize political importance.

The BJP has been facing tougher-than-expected battles in the state polls that have followed Modi's sweeping victory to a second term in office in May 2019.

Its alliance in Maharashtra, India's wealthiest state, fell apart soon after polls there last year. It lost power in Rajasthan and Jharkhand and had to cobble together a new coalition in the northern Haryana state.

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