PATNA (Reuters) - Nitish Kumar, who spearheaded the development of one of India’s poorest states, was re-elected in a landslide as Bihar’s chief minister on Wednesday, in a blow to the ruling Congress party mired in a graft scandal.
The re-election of the leader of the Janata Dal (United), part of the opposition coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, as leader of Bihar comes as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh struggles with corruption accusations.
The opposition has used the issue of the sale of telecoms licences to keep parliament shut for two weeks.
While Bihar is not a stronghold for the Congress, the party was hopeful of improving its performance there, fielding the potential prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi to campaign. Results showed the party had not improved its showing.
Bihar accounts for 40 of the 545 seats in parliament -- the fifth largest parliamentary bloc in India. It can play a crucial role in coalition politics.
Congress has struggled to tame high inflation and has been hampered in its ability to govern by a series of crises, mostly over corruption, since its re-election last year. This could hurt its chances in upcoming state elections and the 2014 general election.
Kumar’s coalition won around four-fifths of the total 243 assembly constituencies, television stations showed, launching his second five-year term.
“The question before the people of Bihar was whether they would move forward or whether they would return to the old ways. The people have decided to move forward. It is their victory,” Kumar said.
“Development has won. It is clear the people wish to see Bihar move forward on the path of progress.”
Bihar was long a byword for lawlessness, caste politics and snail-paced development until Kumar, who took office in 2005, turned the economy around, rapidly building roads, curbing crime and boosting education and health care over the next five years.
His convincing win indicated a “subtle change” in Indian politics in recent years, Morgan Stanley Research said in a note.
“We believe the Bihar election results underscore the upside risk to India’s growth and development, given what we view as the electorate’s resolve to incentivise politicians who focus on these issues,” it said.
Bihar’s economy grew an average 11.35 percent each year between 2004 and 2009, compared with 3.5 percent in the prior five years and above the national growth average.
In Bihar, Congress looked unlikely to improve on its 2005 tally of winning nine seats. The BJP was on its way to bettering its 2005 performance, which could boost the confidence of the party going into half a dozen state polls over the coming year.
“The results of course indicate that our party has to start from scratch to rebuild itself and that is what we plan to do,” Congress chief Sonia Gandhi told reporters in New Delhi.