PM Modi's UK visit comes at a bad time: How the British media is viewing PM's defeat in Bihar

Looks like the drubbing Narendra Modi-led NDA alliance received in Bihar state assembly elections will resonate till 10 Downing Street in London. The Prime Minister's three-day visit to Britain, beginning on 12 November, is being billed as an important milestone in the evolving bilateral relations between New Delhi and London, especially since an Indian prime minister is visiting Britain after a full decade.

The massive loss in Bihar, touted as one of the most important elections since 2014 General Elections, has not gone unnoticed by British media. The loss is more personal than a party loss, noted The Guardian, since Narendra Modi took personal interest in the Bihar state assembly polls and he almost became the face of the campaign after addressing 30 campaign rallies. What makes the situation worse is that BJP did not announce their chief ministerial candidate while over-relying on Modi's 'charm'.

A factor that the Britain media highlighted was BJP's failure to project a local face during the elections. "Instead of relying on local BJP leaders to fight the election on local issues," Leila Nathoo of The Independent writes, "Mr Modi, a sharply dressed and highly skilled orator, took personal control of the campaign in the hope that his reputation and charisma would seal victory."

 PM Modis UK visit comes at a bad time: How the British media is viewing PMs defeat in Bihar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AFP

In an article headlined 'India's prime minister Narendra Modi suffers embarrassing setback on eve of UK visit', The Independent said, "The result means that as he prepares for an enthusiastic welcome ion Britain this week - including an unprecedented sell-out event at Wembley Stadium on Friday - Mr. Modi will be smarting from the defeat on home soil, which comes as his administration also faces mounting accusations of fomenting intolerance."

BJP’s failure to win the election in Bihar is seen as indication that Modi’s appeal to voters has begun to wane, The Guardian said in its report. "India’s ruling party has conceded defeat in a provincial election seen as a test of the vote-winning abilities and political strategy of the prime minister, Narendra Modi," it said.

The New York Times said Modi, who had eagerly cast the Bihar elections as a referendum on his first 17 months as India’s leader, conceded defeat shortly after the results were out. "Recriminations were swift within his BJP. Some party leaders questioned whether Mr Modi had erred in the closing weeks of the Bihar campaign by elevating hard-right appeals to Hindu nationalism over his traditional unifying message of vikas, or development, for all Indians," it said.

But that's not all. As Modi prepares to cement bi-lateral ties with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and readies himself to address an overwhelming crowd at the Wembley, he still will be hurting from the massive defeat back home. Nathoo also noted that it will be a mountain task for the PM since his administration "also faces mounting accusations of fomenting intolerance."

Like Una Galani, a columnist with Reuters Breakingviews said, Modi could still amaze the 60,000 that will gather at the Wembley stadium but the Prime Minister's visit is still terribly ill-timed. Galani added that the already-strained financial relations with Britain could further sour with the latest Bihar drubbing. "London-listed companies like Vodafone and Cairn are still struggling to resolve retrospective tax disputes worth billions of dollars. Meanwhile Britain’s biggest steelmaker, owned by Tata Steel, just axed 1,200 jobs. At home, things aren’t great either. The heavy defeat in the Bihar election will make it harder for the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party to win support in the upper house for stalled landmark reforms on tax and land. The stock market, a good barometer of hope, is down 4 percent so far this year."

Publications like The Guardian and The Independent noted that Modi's loss in Bihar will foil his push to pass crucial economic reforms. Interestingly, The Guardian termed economic 'takeoff' in India under Narendra Modi as 'elusive', when the BJP government has been riding on the economic development plank.

Leading publications of Britain have not missed the fact that BJP played the communal card in the run up to Bihar elections. Modi's silence on Dadri lynching case and top BJP leadership playing "beef politics" during the Bihar election campaigning have not gone unnoticed. Even domestic analysts agreed that one of the reasons BJP lost Bihar was because they focused on things which were not non-issues as far as the Bihar electorate is concerned.

The publications also noted that the Bihar loss comes at a time when intellectuals and eminent creative personalities in the country have been protesting against the rising incidents of intolerance. "It is unclear to what extent such concerns are more widely shared, though defeat in Bihar may indicate that the BJP strategy of simultaneously stressing both development at a national level and using more sectarian rhetoric at a local level may be becoming less effective," The Guardian noted.

Economic implications of this loss are huge too. Narendra Modi has been relying on foreign investors so assuring them that economic reforms in India are well on track and that the GST Bill will be passed in 2016. At present, India ranks 130 on the World Bank's ease of doing business index. With the poll defeat, Modi has to now assure Britain that Opposition will not stall the key legislations and that business will not be hampered.

John Elliott of The Independent says, "The impression in all these areas is that the prime minister is not focussing on following through and implementing the announcements he has made. Much will now depend on how he reacts to today’s defeat – whether he reshuffles his ministers and sidelines those who have been the most disruptive, and whether he begins to emerge and act as a statesman and leader."

United Kingdom had boycotted Modi for 10 years after the 2002 riots while he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Add to that his recent reluctance to confront religious intolerance, could send a dubious message to London. Galani noted that such issues could derail economic reforms. "Against this troubling backdrop, Modi’s stadium show strikes a bum note."

Editor's note: India's ease of doing business ranking in the article has been corrected to 130.

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Updated Date: Nov 10, 2015 17:44:04 IST