Rajya Sabha lawmaker and former minister in the Bihar cabinet, Sanjay Jha has been appointed as the national working president of the Janata Dal (United) or the JD(U). A confidant of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, 56-year-old Jha cut his teeth in politics in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and was elected as a member of the legislative council. In 2012, he switched sides to the JD(U), but the move was neither acrimonious nor compelled by a strain in ties; the switch had the approval of the BJP leaders of the time.

Newly appointed JDU working president Sanjay Jha. (Santosh Kumar/ Hindustan Times)

An alumnus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jha was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in April this year. He was instrumental in the BJP and the JDU forging alliance in the state in 2017 and then again in 2022. His elevation to the party’s top post is an indication that he is likely to play a key role in navigating the alliance as the parties prepare for the crucial state elections next year.

In an interview shortly after being appointed as the working president, Jha spoke about his priorities and the party’s agenda.

Edited excerpts:

Q. You have been appointed as the JDU working president. What will be your priorities?

A. We will focus on places outside Bihar, where the party has had a base and where elections are coming up. Take for instance places such as Jharkhand, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and some places in the Northeast, where our party has had legislators and lawmakers. We will focus on expanding our base in these places; we will see how to go forward, contest polls etc.

Second, we have the assembly election coming up in Bihar in 2025. This Lok Sabha election has proven that our party, even after 20 years of being in power, is still relevant and popular. There was a perception among some people outside the state that the Lok Sabha polls will prove difficult for the JD(U). But after winning 30 of the 40 seats (in alliance with the BJP), which corresponds to winning 177 assembly seats, the message is clear about what people want.

Q. The JD(U) is largely perceived as a one-man party. Often it is asked, who after Nitish Kumar?

A. Nitish Kumar continues to remain relevant. The Lok Sabha polls have shown that there is no change in his reputation or how the people of Bihar perceive him. There is no question about his leadership. And unlike the other regional parties, he has not made it a family enterprise. The fact that I have been given the responsibility shows that this is not a dynastic party. In other parties, such positions are reserved only for family members. For those who work, there is ample space and opportunity in the JDU.

Q. Now that your party is in alliance with the BJP, how will that impact the work of expanding the footprint of the JD(U)? There will be limitations of being in an alliance. For instance, how will you decide on issues related to contesting the assembly polls?

A. The JD(U)-BJP alliance is a natural alliance in Bihar. We have been together since 1996; we dislodged the RJD and ended its misrule together in 2005. There is a healthy interpersonal relationship between the workers and the leaders of both the parties. We will keep working together and ensure the sanctity and dignity of the alliance is maintained, and I do not foresee any difficulties in our work and expansions going forward.

Q. Your support has been crucial in helping the BJP form government at the Centre for the third time. You also have a long-standing demand that Bihar should be granted special status. The state Cabinet passed a resolution in this regard last year. Now that you are part of the government at the Centre, do you think that demand will be met?

A. The party’s national executive on Saturday passed a resolution seeking special category status or a special financial package from the central government for Bihar. Using the resources that the state has, there is a base that has been laid. Work to provide sadak, paani aur bijli (roads, water and power) has been done but to go forward, to take a leap from where we are and to provide opportunities for our people, we will need help from the Union government. We need financial and additional support, and we will take it up with the government. The Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) has always spoken about development in the eastern region, in Bihar. So, we are confident that whatever needs to be done for the development of Bihar will be done.

Q. Have you had any discussions on this with your ally?

A. The government has just been sworn in, but we will take it up and have this discussion.

Q. The issue of irregularities in the conduct of examinations and paper leaks has affected millions of students across the country, including in Bihar. Have you raised the issue with the alliance partner and what is your take on this?

A. In our political resolution today, we have clearly mentioned the issue. Initially the investigation was started by the police in Patna, then the economic offences wing (EOW) of the state took up the issue and finally the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took up the case. Whatever strict action needs to be taken following the investigation should be done, people’s faith and confidence should be restored. We have also said Parliament should enact a law so that in future there is no scope for anyone to indulge in irregularities and leaks.

Q. The Patna high court has set aside the state government’s decision to increase reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC), Extremely Backward Classes (EBC), Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST) from 50% to 65% in educational institutions and government jobs.

A. We will go to the Supreme Court. In our resolution today, we thanked the Bihar government for announcing that we will go to the apex court on this issue. We have also requested the central government to put this in the 9th Scheduled just as it is in Tamil Nadu where reservation is over 50% and it (reservation) cannot be challenged.

Q. There has been a spate of bridge collapses in the state. About five instances of collapses have been reported in a month.

A. A lot of work has been done for infrastructure development in Bihar. But what happens sometimes is that the river suddenly changes course. I have been the water resources minister in the state. But I am not aware of the specifics of these instances. The government is taking a serious view of this, and action will be taken to ensure no such incidents happen again.