LONDON: Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, suffered a heavy defeat yesterday (Sunday) in an election in the important northern state of Bihar, in a blow to his standing ahead of a high-profile visit to Britain this week.
His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) endured a crushing defeat in India's third most-populous state, after a controversial campaign headed by the prime minister.
Mr Modi made repeated visits to the state - which with a population of 110?million would be the world's 12th-largest nation, if independent - as the BJP waged a polarising electoral battle on caste and religious lines.
The vote was seen as a referendum on Mr Modi's popularity after 18 months in office as he campaigned hard for a victory that would have helped him pass a stalled national economic reform programme.
The defeat will embolden his opposition and dampen the mood as he heads to London for a visit that includes a sold-out rally at Wembley stadium, lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and an overnight stay at Chequers hosted by David Cameron.
Mr Modi swept to power in a landslide victory last May on a promise to turn the economy around, but this was his second successive defeat in a major provincial election.
It came as scores of leading Indian writers, artists, filmmakers and scientists returned national awards in protest at a "culture of intolerance" under Mr Modi's government following attacks on minorities.
An anti-Modi "grand alliance" of regional parties and the national Congress party was heading for an overwhelming majority in Bihar.
The BJP has a comfortable majority in the lower house of parliament but is in a minority in the upper chamber, where seats are allocated according to a party's strength in the states. That has enabled the opposition to block key reforms including the biggest overhaul of taxes since independence in 1947.