Narendra Modi appears more impractical
Cuttack: Surprise is the situation ,Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi has been carried by his high aspiration to become father of modern India and therefore ,he has created his symbol weaving through Charakha but his contribution if looked into,he has the design to build modern India through digitization or may be through mobile Selfie and thus mobile could be appropriate symbol,public murmuring suggests. Independence struggle has brought Mahatma to a condition where he was under compulsion to promote khadi industry for the survival of Indians and that’s a holistic patent idea invented by Mahatma Gandhi alone.
In a surprise development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ‘ejected’ the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi from the 2017 wall calendar and table diary published by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC), official sources said here on Thursday.
Most employees and officials were taken aback to see the cover photo of the calendar and diary showing Modi weaving khadi on a large charkha, in the same classic pose as Gandhiji.
While Gandhi’s historic picture weaving khadi on a simple charkha, wearing his trademark loincloth, is legendary and imprinted in the minds of the masses since generations, Modi comes across in his signature attire of kurta-pyjama-waistcoat, weaving khadi on a slightly modern charkha.
Virtually rendered speechless, employees of KVIC at its Vile Parle headquarters plan to stage “a silent, soul-cleansing” protest wearing black bands on their mouths, during lunch hour on Thursday.
When contacted, KVIC Chairman Vinai Kumar Saxena said this was “not unusual” and there have been deviations in the past.
“The entire khadi industry (udyog) is based on Gandhiji’s philosophy, ideas and ideals, he is the soul of KVIC, so there is no question of ignoring him,” Saxena told IANS.
He added that Modi has been wearing khadi since long, and has popularised it among the masses and even among foreign dignitaries while developing his own styles around khadi.
“In fact, he is khadi’s biggest brand ambassador, and his vision matches KVIC’s, of Make In India by making villages self-sufficient, ‘skill development’ by generating employment among the rural masses, infuse modern technology for khadi weaving, innovations and marketing. Plus, the PM is a youth icon,” Saxena explained.
“We are pained at this systematic easing out of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas, philosophy and ideals by the government. Last year, the first attempt was made by including the PM’s photos in the calendar,” said a senior KVIC staffer, requesting anonymity amid fear of official reprisals.
In fact, in 2016 the staff unions in KVIC had raised the calendar matter strongly with the management and were assured that it would not be repeated in future.
“However, this year it’s a total washout. The pictures and teaching of Gandhiji – who created khadi for the poor masses and made it a symbol of the swadeshi self-reliance during the struggle for independence – are completely left out in the calendar and diary,” the staffer rued.
The prime minister featuring prominently in the traditional spinning pose of Mahatma Gandhi in the 2017 wall calendar and table diary published by the Khadi Village Industries Commission is the post-truth event of the year. The image is bewildering not because of any sentimental reasons, but for historical, political and ethical reasons associated with Gandhi and the spinning wheel. It is necessary to carve out those reasons sharply in an era where political, cultural and economic institutions are bent upon inventing meanings that ring hollow and lend themselves to dangerous misappropriation.
“There is an art that kills and an art that gives life,” wrote Gandhi in Young India on August 11, 1921. He was speaking in favour of spinning the wheel and producing khadi. It was not just the idea of self-sufficiency that Gandhi associated with the spinning wheel, and nor did others who associated the historic act with Gandhi merely read it as a symbol of self-sufficiency. The symbol of the spinning wheel meant other significant things: of attending to a work that appeared boring without any sense of boredom, of labouring for a pleasure without privilege, of simply doing one’s work that consists of a single motion, of doing a work as monotonous and singular as spinning. Spinning does not only mean an activity but also denotes a space, where the task of rotating a simple machine and weaving cloth out of it takes place. Threads are the fruit of labour and the source of joy. One never produces enough thread in a day even after hours of spinning. There is a non-capitalist imbalance in the equation between doing and producing, as much as between time and production. Gandhi was not merely producing cloth to sustain a home-grown industry and the idea of self-sufficiency, but producing a specific relation between time and work in the process.
The idea of giving “life” by spinning cloth meant a self- regenerative process for Gandhi, where a certain meaning of self-fashioning was taking place. On March 28, 1945, Gandhi wrote in Sevagram,
“Do spin and spin after due deliberation… ‘Due deliberation’ means realization that charkha or act of spinning is the symbol of non-violence. Ponder; it will be self-evident.”
We can see the connections emerging from this statement. The act of spinning was an act of deliberation, an act of the will. It was a will to be non-violent. If spinning was an activity of deliberation, it was the opposite of the idea of provocation. Gandhi spun in the face of provocations during the anti-colonial movement not simply as a political message to his opponents and to power, but to create a space where the self-at-work can be sovereign within that activity. Spinning created a space for negotiating with power. Gandhi realised the only way to challenge modern (colonial) power is by creating a place where the self can announce its own sovereignty, its own will and a strength to produce for itself. Gandhi’s spinning of the wheel symbolised the soul of Satyagraha, which was also an act of protest, against the devious means of the colonial regime to have a claim over the coloniser’s time, will, sustenance and sovereignty.
Today, even though in concrete terms the idea of such an industry does not rule over the economics or discourse of production, the larger meanings of Gandhi’s enterprise are worth pondering over as ways to negotiate with the violence of industrial productivity. This violence, born from the division of class interests between owners and workers, confronts labour with the burden of productive goals that endlessly expand and exploit labour time. The idea of self-sovereignty, producing work at one’s own pace without bothering about a larger industrial logic of profit-making, is worth thinking over in an era when capitalism is on a death drive.
The other, related aspect is the idea of slowness that Gandhi associated with the idea of ethical life. “Good travels at a snail’s pace,” wrote Gandhi in 1909 in Hind Swaraj. It may be interesting to compare Gandhi’s views on slowness with Milan Kundera’s observations in his novel Slowness. Kundera writes, “There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.” Forgetting has become an unnoticeable malady, a wound that people are suffering from without realising it. Despite Italo Calvino’s praise of speed and quickness as mark of human agility and creativity, it is also time to ponder over the limits and devastations that have been caused by speed. To say like Carlo Levi, in his introduction to the Italian edition of Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (quoted by Italo Calvino), “Death is hidden in the clocks”. It precisely describes the tragedy of modern technological life, where a machine external to the working of the body controls the lifespan and vitality of the body. The gradual disappearing of memory and the clock turning larger than life are the limit situations of our life-world. This mechanisation of life and the erasure of the human would not have surprised Gandhi.
But the most political and ethical core of the reason why Gandhi is irreplaceable from the idea and the image of the spinning wheel is related to non-violence. During Gandhi’s sojourn in Noakhali during the communal riots of 1946, spinning was an exceptional act in the face of an atmosphere completely ridden with violence. Apart from the element of self-control, the act of spinning also contributed to a calm and soothing effect to people in the ashram. Since Gandhi believed it is impossible to meet violence non-violently without a certain practice that enunciates a peaceful mind, spinning granted that mode of peaceful restrain against the news and provocation of violence in Noakhali. Gandhi’s spinning khadi was not just an act of industry but also imbued with a responsibility and commitment to non-violence.
The prime minister and his regime can make no similar claims. No sincere attempt has been made to counter or discourage violence against minorities and Dalits. There have been relentless moves to police and make illegal democratic protest. Apart from token gestures made towards national self-sufficiency, corporate houses and big business have been given a big nod. Instead of serving the truth, media houses defending the regime have indulged in rampant manufacturing of lies. The image of the prime minister spinning the charkha seems totally out of place. This bizarre spin on the spinning wheel is one more tricky delivery in the playground of the nation’s political culture.
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer and political science scholar. He has recently contributed to Words Matter: Writings Against Silence, edited by K. Satchidanandan (Penguin, 2016). He is currently adjunct professor in the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.
For Gandhi, khadi represented a swadeshi that was not based on parochial nationalism. It was their answer to the demand for economic justice and dignity for India’s millions
The Prime Minister’s recent visit to the Silicon Valley has been marked by a lot of platitudes about Indian entrepreneurship. But those celebrating the spirit of enterprise in contemporary urban India may wish to take a moment to look back into our past. Arguably, the most significant start-up in Indian history is not from tech-savvy Bengaluru. Rather, it owed its origins to a small ashram in Ahmedabad founded by a certain Mohandas K. Gandhi. The khadi movement is accorded a significant role in India’s struggle against British rule. But we seldom recognise that it was also a hotbed for creativity and innovation in many senses, i.e., political, social, economic and technological.
The colonisation of India and the subsequent dumping of mill-made British cloth dealt a severe blow to the flourishing textile industries across the subcontinent. While this is a story of great complexity and debate, there is no doubt that during the colonial period, both India’s textile output and the economic status of weavers underwent a precipitous decline. By the time Gandhi returned to India from South Africa a century ago, India’s fabled handloom industry had almost withered away. Perhaps we may recognise the resulting lowly status of India’s textile manufacture in a simple fact. In 1909, when he wrote his famed Hind Swaraj, Gandhi did not know the difference between a charkha and a loom, two different devices for spinning and weaving respectively. And yet, within a decade of his return to India, the manufacture and sale of khadi was a pan-Indian phenomenon that had a central position in the struggle for swaraj. Surely, as an enterprise bootstrapped out of virtually nothing, khadi was a roaring success.
While it embodied the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship like many modern-day corporations, the larger objectives of the khadi movement were markedly different. With its agrarian economy in shambles, India was crying out for useful employment for its millions. Therefore, instead of making its founders fabulously rich, Gandhi’s khadi movement was squarely aimed at putting a few valuable rupees into the pockets of the poorest of Indians. The distributive power of khadi is well illustrated by the fact that in 1927-28, the All India Spinners Association manufactured and sold fabric worth Rs. 24 lakh. Of this value, an astounding 60% or about Rs. 14 lakh was paid as wages to a lakh of spinners and a few thousand weavers. To recognise the significance of these numbers, we should note that during this period, the average annual income in India was less than Rs. 50 and the weavers and spinners of khadi made far less.
If spinning brought a measure of income and self-worth to those who desperately needed work, Gandhi enjoined upon everyone to spin daily and wear khadi. In this process, he challenged the barriers of economic class as well as the traditional values which associated weaving with specific castes and spinning as the work of women.
Of the many aspects of khadi, the one that is least recognised is that of technological innovation. Perhaps this owes as much to the focus on the political dimensions of khadi as it does to the persistent misrepresentation of Gandhi as being anti-modern and resolutely opposed to machinery. What is lost out in such typecasting is the fact that Gandhi was not opposed to machinery per se, but to the loss of economic opportunity and freedom of the worker in the face of mechanisation. When the market for goods was monopolised by those using large-scale industrial processes in the name of efficiency and modernisation, the autonomy of the ordinary individual was severely compromised. With the consequent loss of options and bargaining power, the worker was reduced to wage slavery. Indeed, Gandhi presented this understanding when, in 1931, he was cross-examined on his economic views by the actor Charlie Chaplin. Gandhi argued that he was opposed to ‘mass production’ and preferred ‘production by the masses’ which preserved the economic autonomy of the individual.
Gandhi was acutely aware that if khadi was to spread across the country and flourish as a measure of economic emancipation, there was a need to improve the reliability and technical efficiency of the traditional designs of the charkha. But he also demanded that any technical improvements had to be both economically affordable to the poor and also not displace the employment opportunities inherent to the manufacture of cloth. In a country where most people had very few assets or skills, there were no other choices.
The man who took up this complex challenge was the Mahatma’s nephew, Maganlal Gandhi. From the early days of the venture in 1918 to his untimely death in 1928, Maganlal was instrumental in making the spinning and weaving of khadi a viable technological and economic process. Throughout the 1920s, the Gandhian community was engaged in designing, testing and propagating changes and novel inventions that aided the spinner and the weaver. The significance attached by Gandhi to designing a better charkha can be seen in the contest he announced in 1929. The call was for a new model that satisfied a set of requirements that included efficiency and affordability. And the reward for such an invention was the princely sum of a lakh of rupees. While eventually the prize was not awarded as no design fulfilled all criteria, the Charkha Prize gives us a sense of Gandhi’s conception of a good machine as well as the depth of his commitment.
What Swadeshi meant to Gandhi
During the 1920s and 30s, many Indian capitalists sought to profit from the groundswell of nationalism. They advertised their wares as being swadeshi by dint of being made by businesses owned by Indians. At the same time, large volumes of mill-cloth were packaged and palmed off as khadi. An alarmed Gandhi publicly declaimed such opportunism. In 1934, after a series of meetings where he failed to convince the representatives of some of India’s leading businesses, he offered a ‘new definition of swadeshi‘. Much to the displeasure of these industrialists, Gandhi’s swadeshi now explicitly excluded the patronage of the products of large-scale industries as they had no moral claim on any special preference from the purchasing public. Today, when big business and even global capital stakes a claim on national pride, we must remind ourselves of Gandhi’s conception of swadeshi.
For Gandhi and his colleagues, khadi represented a swadeshi that was not based on parochial nationalism. It was their answer to the demand for economic justice and dignity for India’s millions. With the arrival of independence, the spirit of khadi and village industries was steadily eroded as they were converted into appendages of an indifferent, bureaucratic state. Indeed, the foundation values of the khadi movement are not to be sought in the tiresome sarkari version but in the work of many public-spirited men and women who have dedicated their life to the welfare of India’s hand loom weavers. The lesson from the history of khadi is that instead of wasting taxpayer money on glitzy campaigns promoting ‘Make in India’, the government should enable India’s poor to participate in the economy and ‘Make for India’.