We have changed systems, broken vicious cycle of corruption: Haryana CM Khattar
Manohar Lal Khattar , usually reticent on media interviews, sat down with the Hindustan Times Senior Resident Editor on Tuesday for a frank chat on his half-way tenure so far.india Updated: Jun 29, 2017 09:15 IST
At the helm of Haryana’s first BJP government in 50 years, Manohar Lal Khattar seems untouched by the pride and pollution of practical politics. If the worst-ever violent blow-up of the 2016 Jat agitation was the severest test yet of his governance skills, or the lack of it, the 63-year-old RSS pracharak-turned-chief minister has earned plaudits for his policy initiatives on transparency in transfers and appointments, which have long been synonymous for corruption and nepotism.
Equally ground-breaking is his government’s well-defended law barring illiterates from contesting panchayat polls.
His admirers portray him as a workaholic and a stickler for rules, his critics call him idealistic but uninspiring; and his rivals deride him as a CM who is more into name-changing than game-changing. Despite rumblings of dissent from within, he remains on a firm pitch, backed staunchly by the RSS top brass. Khattar, usually reticent on media interviews, sat down with the Senior Resident Editor on Tuesday for a frank chat on his half-way tenure so far. Excerpts:
You’re heading the first BJP government in Haryana. How is it different?
Earlier regimes, including chief ministers and ministers, were self-centered. ‘Satta bhogna (savouring power)’ was their motive. Our government is above all that. For us, power is a means to serve. Public interest determines our conduct. That’s our institutional sanskar (culture) and sanskriti (tradition). This state was full of corruption. We have broken that vicious cycle. I’m not saying it’s 100% corruption-free but now there is fear factor. The rate of corruption has gone up because the risk has gone up. Unlike the caste-based politics of previous governments, our credo is, ‘Haryana ek Haryanvi ek’.
You had a long stint with the RSS before you became chief minister? How did that help?
I had an outside view of the way the government is run. But it’s different to be on top of the system. You realise how plotters work to trap you as CM; how to keep you in their grip, and how to create a coterie. You have to be vigilant. I imbibed those precautions and principles while working with the organisation. I try and follow the best practices.
What do you count as your government’s high point?
People expect us to build roads, drains, hospitals and schools, create jobs and uphold law and order. But we have gone beyond. We changed systems. We have done away with discretionary powers at all levels that are the source of corruption. There is transparency in teachers’ transfers. Initially, our own people feared it would harm them politically. But we pursued it with determination and it has paid off. 93% teachers have appreciated this. In recruitments, there is no ‘sifarish (recommendation)’, no money and no political connections.
And, the low point?
The violence in the Jat agitation last year was a setback. We never imagined things will go to that extent, particularly after the government agreed in principle to the demand for reservation. Now we know that it was flared up by certain vested political interests. You can compensate the loss, but it takes time to restore people’s confidence.
Transparency in transfers hasn’t gone down well with your ministers and MLAs?
The transfer policy is only in education and to some extent in the power sector. In other departments, manual transfers are still the norm and MLAs have a say. Their recommendations are considered in development works in their constituencies. But we don’t mind cautioning MLAs against transfers out of vengeance.
So, why are a section of BJP MLAs disgruntled?
Haryana has seen the Congress culture for long. Some feel we should follow the same. That is unacceptable. There were misunderstandings which have been sorted out.
Violent incidents of cow vigilantism are on the rise?
There is no big conspiracy. If someone informs or lodges a complaint of violation of the ban on cow slaughter, it’s fine. But no one will be allowed to take the law into his hand.
The impression in some quarters is that vigilantes have connection with right-wing Hindu bodies.
Aisa kucch nahin hai (It’s nothing of the sort). Whenever we have taken action, no pressure has come from any organisation. These are some self-styled people and we are keeping a tab on them.
What prompted Haryana to make the cow slaughter law more stringent?
Our culture has a deep-rooted sentiment against cow slaughter. ‘Shradha ka bhav hai (It’s a matter of devotion)’. The law was unanimously enacted. All three Muslim MLAs of Haryana also endorsed it.
The opposition Congress accuses you of political vendetta.
If we are finding evidence of acts of commission and omission when the Congress was in power, action has to be taken. We are only handing over the evidence to investigating agencies. A lot of things are in the courts. We have no interest in putting them behind bars. But it’s not in the state’s interest to let them off the hook if their wrongdoings are established.
The Jat stir is still simmering.
This is an old issue dating back to 1991 or even before that. People think reservation is an easy way to move up but I believe that hard work and ability is the only way. Reservation is meant to ensure a level playing field, especially for the downtrodden. At present, the issue is caught up in administrative decisions and the judiciary. We passed an Act but the court stayed it. The government is following it up, but I have asked Jat leaders to use the services of the best lawyers.
Are you in favour of loan waiver for farmers?
Farmers have problems but loan waiver is no solution. Increasing their income is the long-term solution. In two years, our government has given Rs 2,400-crore compensation for crop damage, while Rs 1,300 crore was given in 48 years before that.
Did the Jat violence impact investment in Haryana?
Not really. We moved up on the index of ease of doing business from 14th to 6th. In the investment summit soon after the agitation, 357 MoUs worth Rs 5 lakh crore were signed. Of that, 1.5 lakh crore investment is taking shape as land and licences have been cleared. Since land in Haryana is comparatively expensive, we have identified one lakh acres of vacant panchayat land that will be leased out to industrial projects. That will boost income of panchayats and lead to rural development.
Haryana has inequitable development?
That shall change soon. We are giving concessions to industries in backward blocks. Infrastructure is being ramped up. In two years, 12 national highways have been approved. That will be a game-changer.
How are you dealing with rising crime against women?
Our initiative on all-women police stations up to sub-division level has empowered women to report crime. In two years, the strength of the women constabulary has been raised from 6% to 8%. It will be 10% by 2019. Now, women cops are part of Operation Durga to check eve-teasing. It has proved to be a deterrent. No one wants to be beaten up by them.
The Centre is reportedly nudging both Punjab and Haryana for a political solution to the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal issue?
I don’t know about that. If there has been a drop in the water availability in the Sutlej and Beas as Punjab claims, Haryana can accept a lower quantum in proportionate to its agreed share but we can’t give up our share. The case is coming up in the Supreme Court next month and we expect it to direct Punjab and the Centre to follow the verdict.
Punjab says that water is an emotive issue and SYL will lead to a law and order problem.
So is the case in Haryana. The Indian National Lok Dal has called a bandh next month which though is meaningless as stopping buses will not bring water.
What are your priorities for the remaining two years of your government?
Why two years? We have drafted a vision document for the 13 years. Giving jobs to youth, raising farmers’ income and the uplift of the downtrodden will be our priorities.
Your critics say the government lacks dynamism and is more into ‘chintan, manan, manthan (introspection, mulling, brainstorming)’ mode?
I believe in action that is stable. Stability makes things effective. ‘Shor machana hamara kaam nahin. Lekin hum jo maal bana rahein hain, unko bech nahin paa rahen hain. (Making noise is not our job. But what we are creating, we are unable to market that)”.