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Interview with the Spiritual Spirits Leader

One of the largest liqour barons in the country question how right the liquor ban was as he encourages more companies to love their acts of CSR

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Dr. Lalit Khaitan, Chairman and MD of Radico Khaitan

For Dr Lalit Khaitan, a key protagonist in Radico Khaitan becoming one of India’s biggest alcoholic beverage firms, every day is a day lived and is an achievement to be celebrated. Here he speaks about the importance of giving back to the community; why Modi Ji made him proud to be an Indian, and thoughts on the distilleries industry as the Supreme Court mulls a changed verdict come July, about that death knell of a liquor ban.

Is there anything you would like to say about the Supreme Court ban on selling liquor within 500m of national and state highways?

Not today. But about the distilleries and spirits industry I will say, that the industry is doing well, we are doing well, the government is doing their job. We always believe in responsible drinking. We also believe in producing the right quality of spirits. If you look internationally, there will be very few countries where liquor is ban or there’s too much restrictions on it.

Human beings are a social animal and we must live in a society; we have to respect each other’s freedom. There are exceptions of course, but I feel we don’t find people drunk so frequently. Of course excess of anything is bad. Similarly if certain actions are taken for only some excesses by the government saying, ‘no, no let’s ban the whole thing’, I don’t know how right it is for the government to do it.

Over the years you have become a prominent philanthropist. What more can companies do to better contribute through their CSR?

One thing I’m personally happy about is that the government has made CSR compulsory for profit making companies. That has helped a lot because people and corporations will feel lazy or have their other priorities, but when the government made it compulsory, it encouraged corporates to start spending money in a planned manner on CSR. If you’re a profit making company you know what you will spend it on for next 3-5 years, so now CSR projects can be planned and developed over longer periods and that usually yields much better results.

Each company will have a different CSR strategy and area of interest. Tata built Tata Nagar, the cleanest and most state of the art city in India at the time and a great contribution to the country.

Very long time back I met Indira Gandhi. I asked, “Indira ji what can we do for the country?” she simply said, “Ji, aap ghar ke agal bagal ka swachh rakhenge, to sara desh swachh ho jayega.”

Similarly I feel corporates with their plants, factories and establishments would start CSR around those vicinities, it would make a big difference. Usually prosperity and prospects lie where there’s such industrialization. Starting CSR in and around your property would make India a whole group of CSR.

Our current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi ji is the same example. The moment he became Prime Minister, one of his slogans was to keep India clean. Anywhere you go, you will see that slogan making a difference, there’s no denying that.

How has Modi ji’s term in office been?

Personal point of view is that he is doing brilliantly. And after a very long time as an Indian, we feel proud to be Indian. As an Indian, you see internationally, we have been so well recognized. I travel a lot abroad and there’s that extra respect for Indians.

I also feel his concepts are very good. Whether it’s industrialization or doing things for the people especially for the less affluent, I personally feel he is doing a great job.

Do you think the Modi ji led government can live up to their promises in the next 2 years?

Anything to start showing results takes time. I have been hearing about how road projects are not being completed. I was listening to Nitin Gadkari ji and the way they are expanding their road projects, with their target of 40 kms a day against a previous average of 13 Kms a day. So imagine where we will be in the next 10 years or even in the next 2 years.

How would you feel if Modi ji is re-elected as PM?

I feel he will do much better because he will have more time. Rome was not built in a day and overnight success is not overnight success, there will be 20 years of hard labour behind it. If I may say so, it is the hard labour Modi ji is putting in now. But the results we will only see in the long term not so much in the medium or short term.

Companies get into CSR not because they really want to give back but because they want to cut down on taxes they can pay. What’s your take on this attitude?

I personally don’t advocate it. Secondly whether right or wrong, even if the company is engaging in CSR because they are compelled to do so, ultimately the benefit will go to society. Gradually, they will start appreciating and enjoying their acts of giving.

Let me share a couplet, I have spent my lifetime collecting bits of happiness. And still I wasn’t happy, till I realized real happiness was with those who were not collecting bits of happiness, but giving out bits of happiness.

Writing a cheque is easy. Getting emotionally involved and giving yourself to the service of others is much more difficult.

About ten years ago I was on a religious retreat at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji’s centre in Nainital and I was asked to work in the kitchen. I have to say I was not happy with that. After completing the job I realized, that no one is big or small. I understood the idea of labour which is very important in its own way. I accepted labour humbly and appreciated what I have just done.

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