Issue of migrants will work to NDA’s advantage in Bihar polls: Sanjay Jha

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Jha said the issue of migrant workers and the state’s Covid-19 response will work to the NDA’s advantage, contrary to the narrative the opposition is building.
Bihar Minister Sanjay Jha.(HT file photo)
Bihar Minister Sanjay Jha.(HT file photo)
Updated on Oct 22, 2020 07:57 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will return to power in Bihar on the basis of the development ushered in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and chief minister Nitish Kumar in the state, says Sanjay Jha, Bihar’s minister for water resources and national general secretary of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U). In an interview to Hindustan Times, Jha said the issue of migrant workers and the state’s Covid-19 response will work to the NDA’s advantage, contrary to the narrative the opposition is building. Edited excerpts:

There is anti-incumbency against the Nitish Kumar government. There are issues such as employment, law and order and health care on which the government will be questioned. How well prepared is the NDA?

There was no governance in Bihar before 2005. The 15 years of RJD’s misrule left an impact on every aspect of the state and we were left with the legacy of that ‘jungle raj’. But the NDA will come back to power with a majority and there are three reasons for it. The first, the decisive and charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and Nitish Kumar in the state; the second being the development work carried out by the NDA nationally as well as across the state and the third is that NDA has given representation to all social segments, it is today a strong social coalition.

By removing {its jailed chief} Lalu Prasad Yadav’s picture from the posters, the RJD cannot erase the 15 years of his misrule that left Bihar with the stigma of ‘jungle raj’.

The opposition and the NDA’s former Bihar ally, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), has accused the Bihar government of failing the workers. The images of migrant workers making their way home on foot, the job losses and the suffering are expected to have an impact on the election.

The issue of migrant workers will actually work to the NDA’s advantage because the workers now know firsthand how well they were looked after by the Bihar government as compared to how they were treated by other governments such as the Aam Admi Party in Delhi. A large section of workers who provide services in Delhi were literally pushed out of the state when the lockdown was imposed in March and left to fend for themselves.

Bihar paid for their travel; we set up quarantine centres so that we could break the chain of infection spreading to the rural areas. Everyone kept saying that Bihar will collapse and there will be widespread casualties, but compare the deaths in Bihar and Maharashtra; we have less than 1,000 deaths while in Maharashtra the number is over 40,000 . Our recovery rate is among the best; there is something that the Nitish Kumar government did right.

Even in the quarantine centres, where 15-20 lakh people stayed, we ensured that people are looked after and treated with dignity. We spent Rs. 5,300 per person in those centres. {The Covid-19 deaths in Maharashtra were 42,115 and in Bihar 996, as of Monday).

What about employment avenues for these workers who are back and don’t want to migrate to earn their livelihood?

We were the first state to carry out skill mapping of the workers. We are providing assistance to those who want to start work in Bihar. In Champaran, for instance, we have given the space and people who were engaged in textile manufacturing have already begun production and they are taking orders from clients in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Handmade masks with Madhubani art is a popular buy on platforms such as Amazon. In Sapaul, they have received orders for making leather jackets from Ladakh… the transformation has begun.

Your party is among the few who have fielded more women candidates than in the last election. Was this a conscious decision, given how women tend to be underrepresented in the assembly?

It was the Nitish Kumar government that actually paid attention to women and carved them out as a constituency. While others were focused on religion and caste, we saw the importance of women as a constituency. In the last 15 years, our government has been committed to women’s empowerment; and you see the results on the ground. We were the first government to announce 50% reservation for women in local bodies in 2006. Since then we have more than 50% women being elected to these local bodies. Prohibition; schemes such as cycles for girls etcetera are all efforts at reforms that took place in Bihar with women at the centre stage.

How do you perceive LJP’s persistent attacks against the JD(U) and the simultaneous assertion that it will form the government with the BJP after November 10.

The voters in Bihar are intelligent and they vote decisively. The voters in Bihar are not taken in by vote-cutters, nor do they waste their votes. The BJP leadership, including home minister Amit Shah, has said unequivocally that the NDA will form the government with Nitish Kumar as the chief minister.

Your ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, thinks that RJD has ceded space to extremist ideology by associating with parties such as the the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation, and left-wing extremism could return if the Grand Alliance {of RJD, Congress and Left parties} is voted to power.

During the RJD rule, we had a series of massacres, land grabbing incidents and widespread violence. When the Nitish Kumar government came {to power}, we started a scheme in January 2006 called ‘Aapki Sarkar Aapke Dwar’ (your government at your doorstep), which aimed at holistic development of the Naxal -affected areas in Jehanabad. Development work was undertaken and these areas were adopted. Dalits and EBCs {economically backward classes} whose shoulders the Naxals would fire from and were used as cannon fodder were given reservation in Panchayats; this helped them join mainstream politics. Gradually, with the development of the Naxal-affected areas, the problems faced by people were addressed. But we know that the RJD believes in the politics of the bloodbath and it is possible that it wants to revive that.


    Smriti covers an intersection of politics and governance. Having spent over a decade in journalism, she combines old fashioned leg work with modern story telling tools.

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