Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesman Manoj Jha is a member of the Rajya Sabha. He shot into the limelight with a speech tearing into the Bill for 10 per cent reservation for the economically weak section in the general category. Jha teaches social work in Delhi University and has been at the forefront of raising concerns of university teachers. He is very critical of implementation of the 13-point roster for appointment of teachers in universities and colleges. On the grand alliance of Opposition parties in Bihar, Jha said in an interview with ABHIJEET ANAND that discussions are on. Excerpts:

Q: Does your party have any objection to Rahul Gandhi being projected as the Prime Minister?

A: Our leader has said clearly that Rahul’s Congress has the maximum footprint. Rahulji has the ability to run and lead an alternative alliance. Having said so, RJD is also committed to the idea of bringing back the collective in the political discourse. We are not into buying a detergent. That this is Modiji’s detergent and what is your option. I think issues are far more important. When you weave a pattern around an individual, you ultimately lose sight of core issues. Agrarian distress, joblessness and social harmony are at an all-time low. Women’s safety and security, expenditure on health and education, these are the kind of issues that we want to bring back. The Bihar leader of Opposition, Tejashwiji, has said Rahulji has all the ability of leading an alternative alliance. Even that is not his priority. Even he would want the issues to dominate. Even he would want the collective to be dominant.

Q: Has RJD reached a consensus over seat sharing?

A: No. It is at a very preliminary stage. We all know whether people like it or not that we have a natural kind of alliance. Discussions have started. I think within ten or twelve days, it should be clear.

Q: Congress wants to play a frontfoot role in the coming elections. Will that create any problems for the Grand Alliance?

A: I mean…what Rahul ji said in Patna look at it carefully. He said I together with Tejashwi ji and Laluji, Congress will play on the front foot in the coming elections. Rahulji knows the capacity and engagement of RJD as also the longstanding commitment of RJD for Soniaji and Congress as well as the issues that UPA has represented.

Q: Lalu Prasad is ailing and in jail also. What effect is it having on the party?

A: His illness is an issue of concern for us. What he needs is critical care. We are all concerned about his health. Politics will continue. We want him to be healthy very soon. Rest everything is meaningless.

Q: There are some leaders who feel that EWS reservation does not conform to the Constitution. What is RJD’s stand?

A: I have spoken on behalf of the party. We were the only one who took a stand and voted against it. We call it midnight robbery. It is against the basic spirit of the Constitution. I mean, we have been telling in Parliament that reservation is representation. Reservation is not income generation programme. It is not about poverty alleviation. There are issues of constitutional untenability. There are issues of legal untenability. Whenever such alteration takes place, it has to be backed up with substantial data. How have you decided Rs 8 lakh per annum? How have you decided five acres of land? This government lacks wisdom. It is the most mediocre government in the history of independent India.

Q: What was your reaction to the Budget?

A: I will tell you frankly. The kind of euphoria they wanted to create, we took away all that. Why do I say so? If you look at budgetary provisions together with the presidential address, certain important social sectors needed massive, open-heart surgery kind of intervention. What have they done? They have applied band-aid where surgery was required. That is why I say that this government should not continue. They have no idea, whether it is microeconomic or macroeconomic interventions.

Q: You have in recent times raised issues of university and college teachers. What is wrong with the 13-point roster for appointment of teachers in universities?

A: I tell you the 13-point roster is the most ridiculous thing that could have happened to the diversity in colleges and universities. I want you to see. On the tenth position you have EWS. Tribals are nowhere. In certain departments, tribals will have to wait for 300 years. It does not require rocket science. For OBCs it shall be much delayed. And for SCs it will much more delayed. You are making these spaces which have become diverse spaces in the last few years, exclusive spaces.

Q: So, do you want the reservation to be department-wise or university- wise?

A: I want a 200-point roster where university or the college should be taken as a unit. That is the only way you can address the idea of social justice.

Q: What is your party’s stand on EVMs?

A: The party’s stand is very clear. Even when we won by-elections, we said we do not trust this machine. Our standard position was that Election Commission is custodian of free and fair election. Nowhere in my Constitution is it written under Article 324 that EC is custodian of the machine. Machine is a medium. It is the means and the end is the idea of free and fair election. That idea has come under doubt. If you cannot shift to ballot papers in such a short span of time, you should at least do 50 per cent counting of VVPATs mandatorily.