Indian pol wins election on his record, not caste

The top elected official of one of India's poorest states won a landslide re-election victory Wednesday by emphasizing efforts to bring development to Bihar and break away from traditional caste-based politics.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's National Democratic Alliance won 206 seats in the 243-seat Bihar assembly, according to India's election commission. That was a huge jump from the 143 seats it controlled in the last assembly.

Revelers beat drums, lit fire crackers and distributed sweets on the streets of the state capital, Patna, after results were announced giving an overwhelming victory to Kumar's party and its allies in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Kumar has been credited with restoring law and order to the anarchic state and building thousands of miles (kilometers) of roads during his five-year term. While Bihar still has enormous problems, Kumar's success in restoring the barest government authority was hailed as a significant achievement.

Former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad's coalition captured 22 seats, a sharp decline from the 54 seats that he and his allies had in the last assembly. Prasad's wife, Rabri Devi, also a former chief minister of Bihar, lost in the two constituencies she contested.

Bihar's reputation as one of India's most crime-ridden states forced officials to hold the elections in six phases over a month to allow the limited police force to protect the polls.

Analysts say Prasad nearly let Bihar collapse from 1990 to 2005 when he ruled the state — both directly and by proxy through his wife. However, he managed to stay in charge through an alliance of his Yadav caste and the state's large Muslim community.

Kumar cobbled together his own coalition of upper caste constituents and the masses at the bottom of the caste ladder to take power in 2005. While he retained that coalition in this election, he tried to move the political debate in Bihar to development for the first time in hopes of peeling off some of the voters who traditionally cast ballots for Prasad.

As chief minister he set up special express courts to try criminal gangs, hired hundreds of thousands of teachers and forced doctors to open shuttered government health clinics. He increased the road-building budget tenfold and constructed hundreds of bridges.

"Bihar has moved away from being an area of ignorance and darkness," Kumar said Wednesday. "The people of Bihar have moved beyond caste and have voted for development."

Kumar promised that in his next term he would further improve law and order, provide better health care and improve education.

His focus on development appears to have paid off.

"For once, people have disregarded the caste factor and have put their weight behind Nitish's development agenda," said Ravi Ranjan Sinha, a political analyst in Patna.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress Party, which does not have much of a presence in the state, claimed only four seats, down from the nine it currently holds.