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‘No poll when life is uncertain’

In an interview with ABHIJEET ANAND, Jha spoke on a range of political and electoral issues. Here are the excerpts:


The tenure of the JDU-BJP government in Bihar will end in November 2020. With the Covid19 infection spreading fast in Bihar, holding polls for a new Bihar Assembly would pose a huge challenge to the Election Commission of India. RJD spokesman and Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar, MANOJ JHA, is known to be one of the most eloquent and articulate political spokespersons in the country.

He completed his masters from the Delhi University (DU) in 1992 and PhD in 2000. He was a lecturer at the Jamia Millia Islamia from 1994 to 2002. He has been a professor at the DU’s department of social work and was its head between 2014 and 2017. In an interview with ABHIJEET ANAND, Jha spoke on a range of political and electoral issues. Here are the excerpts:

You have been trying to oust the BJP from Bihar. How hopeful are you that the RJD will succeed in doing that in the upcoming elections?

First of all, in politics you’re adversaries. You fight on two different premises. In 2015, the BJP was decimated. The mandate was in our favour. We were the single largest party. And our alliance had won twothirds majority. But in 2017, I think for the first time in the history of India, a party which had lost in the elections became part of the ruling coalition. That tells you about the health of democracy. We are going into the election with two objectives. One, people of Bihar should penalise those who actually robbed the mandate of 2015. Two, we are going in this election with a very important and wholesome blueprint for the transformation of Bihar. We want people of Bihar to give us a chance so that we can deliver.

The RJD is against the RSS’ ideology. Does that make the Congress its natural ally?

The RSS calls itself a cultural organisation but it indulges in everything that is not cultural. They take political decisions. Their people speak political language on issues — even, in one instance, on China. When you want the government to say something, we hear from the RSS. The default template of the RSS is not similar to the default template of India. India is inclusive, the RSS is exclusive. India stands for everybody, the RSS stands for somebody at the cost of everybody. India believes in civilisational ethos which says “sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramaya (may all sentient beings be at peace, may no one suffer from illness)”, the RSS does not believe in that. India believes in ideas of Gandhi and Nehru, the RSS doesn’t.

There is speculation that the RJD might form an alliance with the BJP. What do you say to that?

These speculations can only come in the minds of people who have lost their senses. I have no qualms about saying that only people who have lost their mental balance can ever imagine a thing like this. My leader (Lalu Prasad Yadav) is in jail. You know he was the one who arrested L K Advani. He was the one who stood when entire north India was burning. He did not allow that flame to reach Bihar. The only thing we have known is that we are not meant for compromise with communal, sectarian politics. We might lose elections. We have lost in the past. That doesn’t mean we will compromise on our basics. Social justice, secularism and inclusive development is our motto.

The BJP says that organised crime has come to an end during their coalition government’s tenure in Bihar.Your response?

I would want informed citizens to compare the charts — 1990-2005 and 2005-2020 — on every indicator, not only crime. I can vouch that those people will never face the real data. Muzaffarpur case, that’s a shame not only for the state but for civilisation. When did it happen? Not during our regime. Then you have seen the corruption, mob lynching. People can talk. But if they compare the data, they will find it otherwise.

Is the RJD asking for postponement of the Bihar election?

All non-NDA political parties of Bihar – the CPI-M, CPI, HAM, RLSP, VIP , RJD and Congress – met the Election Commission. We submitted a memorandum (to the EC). We have described the vulnerable conditions. No institutional care, minimum testing, rapid rise of Covid. Now, in democracy, while we have to ensure free and fair elections, we have to also ensure maximum voter participation. There is a fear in the minds of people. What will happen if we end up having only 30 per cent turnout? We have apprised them about the precarious health conditions. Their own people, one of them who was part of EVM training, a teacher from Khagaria, he died (after being detected Covid positive). Ten persons who were carrying EVM machines in Begusarai have been detected positive. These are the issues we have brought to the domain of Election Commission along with the issues of virtual rallies and expenditure. We appeal to them: please have a level-playing field and act accordingly

What do you think will be the impact of lockdown and migrant labourer issue on the Bihar election?

The way the Bihar government handled the migrant labourers issue — that will remain in our memory forever, whatever be the outcome of the elections. For the first time, migrant workforce left different places in Telangana, Delhi and Mumbai in search of home. But the home state was not willing to allow them to come. So this episode, I think will remain forever in the memory of everyone in Bihar. As far as lockdown is concerned, the Bihar government has wrongly perceived the lockdown as a kind of vaccine against coronavirus. It is in fact a cushion, a cover under which you work on institutional care, doing testing, providing basic medical kits and PPE kits and so and so forth. The Bihar government didn’t do that. As a result of this, the cases are exploding now. In spite of being in the Opposition, while these things will appear to you as favourable conditions for elections, we are worried for the people of Bihar. Elections don’t matter now. We don’t want elections when there is uncertainty of life.

Right from day one, the RJD has been against the 10 per cent reservation for economically backward in the general category. Is it doing so to expand its electoral base?

I was the one who spoke against it in the Rajya Sabha. Our only argument was that develop a database first. You cannot decide on arbitrary things without a database all of a sudden. This is not how the Constitution works. This is not how policies are made. When the Mandal Commission came, it had many volumes to support its argument. It had a database. We wanted a similar database. But then this government was in a hurry. Their idea was not to provide justice. Their idea was to make it a talking point for the election.

Are there differences in the Bihar Opposition’s grand alliance over whether Tejaswi Yadav will or won’t be its face in this election?

Absolutely not, come what may. There is no doubt. Every political party can give some argument. But ultimately, everybody knows that, we are the nucleus in Bihar politics. Everybody knows the vote share. Everybody knows that the RJD has declared Tejaswi ji as its face. I think when you talk about alliance, these issues don’t matter. More or less every alliance partner, they know the reality, and we will win together.