Vikas Pathak talks to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar about his personal life and journey, as part of a series in which Outlook helps its readers know their leaders up close and personal. Khattar recalls how he joined the RSS after the Emergency and talks about his favourite movie, his favourite books and the intersection between his public life and his private life. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your childhood. Where were you born? Where did you study?
I was born in Nindana village in Rohtak in 1954. We had a shop there. When I was six, my father shifted to another village, Baniyani, and started farming. I studied in a school there till standard fifth and continued my studies from another school in a nearby village, Bhali Anand. I went to college in Rohtak while also helping my father in farming. After finishing my college, I left for Delhi.
What subject did you study in college?
Ans. I studied medical science, as I wanted to become a doctor. But owing to some circumstances I had to drop out of college in 1972. Then I ran a shop in Delhi for eight years. It was around this moment that I entered public life.
How did you enter public life?
The days of the Emergency changed me. People were afraid to speak up. I read in the newspapers that an organization called the RSS had been banned. Bad things about them were fed in the media. Initially, I thought that if their work is so objectionable, they must be a dangerous organization. Then I got to know that its members were arrested for their non-violent disobedience against Emergency, for chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai. So, after the Emergency, I felt I needed to know the RSS better. I joined a shakha at Ranibagh in Delhi and this marked my entry in the Sangh.
How many years did you spend in the Sangh?
From 1977 to 1980, I was an ordinary Swayamsevak. In 1980, I became a full-time Pracharak. For 14 years, I discharged several responsibilities in the Sangh. In 1994, I joined the BJP. From 1994 to 2002, I was the general secretary (organization) for Haryana. From 2002 till 2013, I worked for the party throughout the country.
How was your personal life affected after you entered public life as a full-time Pracharak?
My mother thought that the pracharaks come back home after three years. She asked me to return home when three years passed. But I said my family is now larger and I have to serve it. I would also have arguments with my father, who wanted me, as the eldest son of the family, to take care of my siblings. I would reply that he should think he has only four sons instead of the five.
Which individual, from history or from contemporary politics, has inspired you the most?
Ideas have inspired me more than individuals. As a pracharak, I was told about highly educated seniors like Ashok Singhal and Rajju Bhaiyya. Who could be more inspiring than them? If you talk about contemporary politics, the unique style of functioning of Prime Minister Modi has really inspired me. I got my inspiration for administrative work from him. Ideas that inspire us always remain around even if the people who voice them come and go. Nationalism, social work, these are ideas that always inspire me.
People associate ideas with books. Which is your favourite book?
I am not a voracious reader, but Dattopant Thengdi’s Rashtra Jeewan Ki Disha inspired me a lot. The Bhagwad Gita is another example. I don’t get a lot of time to read it but whatever I read from it is very inspiring. Not that I worship any one book. But whenever I come across books with good values, I read them.
Let me ask you about your favourite film.
I don’t watch many movies. I loved Manoj Kumar’s Upkaar, which had the song mere desh ki dharti… I remember it for the feeling of nationalism it fostered. I used to watch films occasionally. In today’s political life, I feel I see a movie playing around me each day. Each day there are developments that are not less interesting than a movie script. So, I don’t need to watch movies on screen any longer.
But who is your favourite actor?
I haven’t thought much about actors (abhineta). Yes, I have remembered politicians (neta). When I used to meet Atal ji, it was an inspiring experience. I feel very inspired when I meet Modi ji. When I read about Swami Vivekanand’s life, it infuses a new energy in me.
Have you loved sports? Have you played any sport?
In school, I played badminton. In the Sangh Shakha, I loved playing Kabaddi. Even today, if I go somewhere and see Kabaddi being played, I feel like joining in. But with age things change. Now I do yoga. It isn’t exactly a sport, but I practise it for good health.
You have travelled all over. Which is your favourite travel destination?
I like hills. I lived for eight-nine months in Jammu and Kashmir and visited it off and on for three years after. I love the sight of mountains, the snow-clad peaks. It is a dangerous place but I like the mountains. There are some spots I also love in Himachal.
Any one thing about yourself that you would like to change?
In political life, character is important. There was a time when people would be biased against politicians. The popular belief was that a politician was bound to be corrupt. I think if the image of politicians improves, society will progress a lot.
Tell me one thing that you think should change in your state or the country for it to become a better place?
Corruption runs deep in society. Everyone should resolve to not let it spread. This is a big responsibility. Be it myself or anyone else, we should all work towards it.
But won’t it be a challenge since you admit corruption runs deep? How do you propose to counter it?
From the Good Governance Day in 2014, I said let us do everything through e-governance. E-governance is running very well at many levels in many of our departments. I believe this has gone a long way in reducing corruption. From politicians to bureaucrats to several sections of society, there is a propensity to be corrupt. Not even punishment can improve the situation. Building a new value system and a new work atmosphere can help. As we reduce human interface and shift to technology, we will see an increase in transparency and reduction in corruption.