First-time chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar (60) has been a surprise BJP choice to lead Haryana for the next five years. From being a spartan RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) pracharak to a CM, his political journey resembles that of his mentor, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His coronation also signalled a break from the years of dynastic rule in the state. The soft-spoken former RSS idealogue is someone who in spite of being from a humble family background, rose to the top. In spite of being mild mannered, he is considered a tough-talking individual and a hard taskmaster. An ardent swayamsewak who has led a simple and disciplined life, Khattar has started giving signals of his austere mantra already. The CM spoke to chief of bureau Hitender Rao exclusively aboard the New Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi Express on Friday evening.
HT: Very few chief ministers prefer travelling by a mass transport system. What made you do so? Are you trying to send a message to your peers and the public?
CM: I believe that these things are in the interest of the state, and if I do it consistently, it will send the right message certainly. Delhi-Chandigarh is a mere three-hour journey, and if it can be done austerely then why not. Incidentally, the state chopper was not available today. Had I taken a chartered helicopter, it would have cost the exchequer a lot and taken me more than two hours to reach Chandigarh. Since there was no urgency to reach the state capital today, I decided to travel by train.
You are a first-time MLA and chief minister. How has been this new experience of shouldering such a big responsibility?
Running the state government is a big responsibility definitely. But it is a something which I am not totally unfamiliar with. I have managed the affairs in the party for long. With everyone’s cooperation and teamwork, I will be able to accomplish my task successfully.
So are you prepared for this responsibility?
Absolutely. That’s why I agreed to take up this responsibility. Had I not been prepared, I would not have agreed. Even the party would not have given me the opportunity.
What are the immediate challenges before you as chief minister?
The financial situation of the state is not very healthy. Whether we have to build our resources, think about new investment opportunities or seek assistance from the central government, we are prepared to take a call. If finances are improved, then only we can build better infrastructure. Increasing the income of the farmers is also an important area for us. In Haryana, the number of marginal farmers is very high and they seem to be weaning away from farming. If they have to be sustained, the returns from farming will have to be made rewarding. Similarly, industry needs expansion so that more employment opportunities are generated. It is our moral responsibility to ensure that the youth do not remain discontented, since that will have social repercussions.
What is your take on the caste-based politics prevalent in Haryana?
I am not for caste-based politics and do not consider it healthy for society and the state. My vision is that of a cohesive, harmonised Haryana. The unity of the people and the system is of paramount importance to me.
Haryana has often experienced regional disparity in terms of development and employment? How will you tackle it?
At least I will not be a party to this discrimination. My job will be to ensure equitable development. My priority is to work towards inclusive development. However, the areas which are backward geographically will get more attention.
There were many complaints/allegations of favouritism and corruption against the Congress regime. Will the BJP government be any different? How?
We have been given a mandate for five years and we would first like to implement our agenda of development. As far as the issues pertaining to the previous government are concerned, we will not act in a vindictive manner. Wherever irregularities are detected, the law will take its own course.
During the assembly session, you spoke about mismanagement—fiscal as well as procedural—in the departments? How do you plan to tackle it?
See, we have very capable bureaucrats in Haryana. They will deliver if they are given freedom and assignments according to their capabilities. If required, we will also deploy outside agencies to set things right. I believe information technology can play a big role in improving systems and delivery.
You have ordered a review of the announcements made by the previous government. How will you sort them out?
All the departments have been asked to review these announcements in consultation with their respective ministers. We have sought reports in this regard in a fortnight. The Council of Ministers will then take a call on them. Those found correct on merit will be continued but if there are indications of mismanagement or ulterior motives, then those announcements will be reconsidered.
There is a perception that this is an RSS-driven government. How do you react?
It is not so. There is no reason for being a RSS-driven government. But my point is that one can always imbibe virtuous values from anywhere. Be it from Arya Samaj or any other organisation. I come from an RSS background, having spent 34 years working with the Sangh. There must have been something virtuous in the RSS that led to such a long association. The sanskars (values) I have gained from the RSS will be put to use in the interest of the state. Will then one say that this government is RSS-driven? Whatever we do should be in the interest of the people. That’s our agenda and nothing more.
How do you view the Vadra-DLF deal and other land scams? Why is the BJP government not announcing a definite inquiry into the deal? There is a perception that you are shy of a looking into it.
Several of these issues are under our consideration. Many things are cropping up through litigation also. There are complaints as well. We will examine them and initiate legal action wherever we are convinced that a loss has been caused to the state exchequer. But we will never act in a vindictive manner.