NEW DELHI: A resounding verdict in Bihar against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cow politics at the expense of India’s traditional tolerance of food habits, put his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out to pasture on Sunday while setting the agenda for an opposition regrouping against his narrow nationalism.

An alliance of poor peasants and artisans led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JDU) was heading to clinch a whopping 150 plus seats in the 243-seat assembly.

Former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) and the Congress party are the two key members of the maha-gathbandhan (Grand Alliance). Modi’s BJP was trailing at around 70 seats.

The BJP began its crucial month-long election campaign in Bihar, India’s second poorest state after Orissa, on a platform of economic development. Midway, however, it got nervous and, shooting from the hip, claimed that that a defeat for Modi would be a victory for Pakistan. "Firecrackers would go off in Pakistan," BJP president Amit Shah said.

Read: Will Pakistanis burst crackers if Modi loses Bihar polls?

A last ditch effort to instil religious polarisation in what has become a communally harmonious state boomeranged. BJP posters began showing a vulnerable cow embraced by a caring woman. It accused the chief minister of keeping silent when the cow was facing an alleged threat from Mr Modi’s opponents. The election commission proscribed the ad, but by then the election was nearly over.

"This is not a verdict against (Modi’s) National Democratic Alliance only," Rahul Gandhi clarified, whose marginalised Congress party made substantive gains as a junior partner in the Nitish-Lalu partnership.

"This is a verdict against the politics of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. It is a verdict against the BJP’s mindset, and against Modi’s narrow politics, against their efforts to pit Hindus against Muslims."

An early evidence of the sobering impact of the adverse Bihar verdict came when Modi met Lal Kishan Advani of the BJP’s old guard to greet him on his birthday on Sunday. BJP and RSS leaders began to distance themselves from recent poisonous comments made against Muslims and protesting intellectuals by Modi’s supporters.

Also read: Modi's reform push faces crunch test in Bihar vote

"We have to do serious introspection," said Seshadhri Chari in a TV discussion. He is a senior RSS ideologue.

"Warmest birthday greetings to our guide & inspiration, the respected Shri LK Advani ji. I wish Advani ji a long life filled with best health," Modi said of the man who he sidelined to become prime minister in May 2014.

"Advani ji’s contribution to the country is invaluable. He has always been respected as a person of immense knowledge & integrity," Modi tweeted while hailing the former deputy prime minister.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley slammed India’s protesting intellectuals and said there was no intolerance in the country for them to fight. Immediately, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath proved him wrong. He described Muslim Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan as Pakistani extremist Hafiz Saeed.

The popular actor had said India was facing a climate of extreme intolerance.

By all accounts Modi will face a beefed up opposition when the parliament meets for the winter session in the next few weeks.

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