Almost a year ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio show, spoke about how he sees khadi as not just a type of cloth but a movement that will be instrumental in rural poverty alleviation. He went onto Twitter to give a shout out to all Indians to buy a khadi product on the following October 2, as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi. Mr Modi’s views on the transforming role of ‘khadi ’ were a reiteration of Gandhi’s ideas that had echoed throughout India’s freedom struggle. Before delving into the nuances of Gandhi’s ideas on khadi , it would be interesting to understand the context which conditioned his thinking to advocate for khadi . Why did a western-educated barrister who spent his prime years overseas become an exemplary figure for the usage of khadi and come to represent the art of spinning in India?
The early stages of Indian freedom struggle were dominated by the upper caste, upper class, educated elites. In order to move beyond this exclusivity and build a mass movement, Mahatma Gandhi banked on the charka (spinning wheel), which was familiar to every rural household. Today, one cannot imagine Mahatma Gandhi without his spinning wheel. For Gandhi, khadi represented the swadeshi mentality of his people and their determination to seek all the necessities of life from the local community itself. As Gandhi linked khadi with the Indian Independence movement, it served a twin purpose of self-reliance and participation of rural poor in the struggle. He recognised that the promotion of Khadi will contribute to rural poverty alleviation. Thus, charka became the symbol of freedom struggle and was used as a political weapon across the freedom struggle to bridge the divide between villages and towns.
In the 18–point constructive programme that Mahatma Gandhi had written as a guiding document for post-independent India, he explicitly spoke about the khadi programme and its potential to transform rural India. Post-independence, the Government of India’s response to Mahatma Gandhi was in the form establishing the Khadi and Village Industries Commission established in 1956 and including the development of khadi under the gamut of Five Year plans. The commission, a statutory body formed by an act of the Parliament, has its roles defined with the goal to strengthen the rural economy. In its initial years, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission provided employment opportunities to rural artisans who fell under the weaker strata (socio-economically) of the society. In the recent years, due to several initiatives of the current government and support received to these initiatives from the various sports persons, politicians, and others, khadi products have grabbed the attention of the wider public.
It is in this context that a conversation on khadi and other village industries will help in creating awareness among the citizens to revitalize the village industries. For this purpose, platforms such as the National Agenda Forum could be used to bring the issue of khadi into mainstream Policy agenda. Through such a forum, citizens can engage in discussions to deliberate and decide the agenda for elections of 2019 around the principles of Mahatma Gandhi’s 18-point Constructive Program, while selecting the priorities.