Why Modi posing with charkha does not diminish Brand Gandhi or Khadi

Image of PM with the spinning wheel on the 2017 KVIC calendar is too little to topple the Mahatma.

 |  5-minute read |   30-01-2017
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It looks very unlikely that Mahatma Gandhi would have reacted to Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC)’s calendar featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the spinning wheel.

Though Gandhi was against self-promotion, it is more likely that he would not have made an issue out of the 2017 calendar. Being a modest, down-to-earth and saintly man, he would have rather been all right, even with the picture of spinning wheel alone and all by itself on the calendar.

As portrayed in Raju Hirani’s Lage Raho Munnabhai, Gandhi was strictly against blowing his trumpet. He would rather have wished that people followed the 11 principles he practiced and propagated in his life – subsumed more or less in truth, non-violence, swadeshi, removal of untouchability and equality of religions.

In answers to questions on May 29, 1947 when the father of the still-to-be-formed Indian Nation was asked whether he did not know that his statues were being set up and photographs unveiled at many places in the country, he replied:

“How can I say I do not know that my statues are being erected and my photographs are being unveiled everywhere in the country, that they are garlanded and lights are waved before them? But I attach no importance to these things, for I dislike such thing intensely. They are a sheer waste of money. And I strongly feel that these activities do me no honour but, on the contrary, are an affront to me. If the people wish to honour me, let them honour the charkha, that is, spin daily by way of yajna. That will be as good as honouring me. Let them also read the Gita and meditate over its teaching. And if they cannot do even that, let them just repeat Ramanama. To understand a man’s virtues and follow his principles in one’s own life is as good as honouring the man himself.” (The Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi [CWMG], Vol.88, p.34)

gandhibd_013017024443.jpg For the Mahatma, the spinning wheel was an abiding and intrinsic symbol of the idea of swadeshi.

For the Mahatma, the spinning wheel was an abiding and intrinsic symbol of the idea of swadeshi he preached against the British goods day in and day out during the freedom struggle. For him, Khadi and spinning wheel, like Ramayana, cow and Gita, were cultural symbols to unite India into one entity against the foreign rulers, as well as a means to protect the cottage industry in the country and reconstruct the village economy. The two were synonymous with Swaraj.

Gandhi did not just pose with the spinning wheel for shutterbugs and publicity. He learnt spinning and then practiced it daily to make it popular across the length and breadth of the country.

He sacrificed his foreign suit to adopt Khadi. Gandhi’s spinning wheel and Khadi were symbols of defiance of economic policies of the Empire. It was a vote against the heavy industries the British Empire promoted in its own backyard and also in its colonies like India. Gandhi believed that establishment of heavy industries in the country could lead to India’s ruin the way it had “begun to desolate Europe”. He would rather have these industries in Britain.

“If the machinery craze grows in our country. It will become an unhappy land. It may be considered a heresy, but I am bound to say that it were better for us to send money to Manchester and use flimsy Manchester cloth than to multiply mills in India. By using Manchester cloth, we only waste our money, but by reproducing Manchester in India, we shall keep our money at the price of our blood, because our very moral being will be sapped, and I call in support of my statement the very mill hands as witnesses.”  (The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.III).

For Gandhi, spinning wheel and Khadi were also symbols of secularism. He wanted all Indians irrespective of their caste and creed to adopt the spinning wheel and khadi. He was happy after All India Christian Conference passed 16 resolutions in 1922. One of these resolutions endorsed spinning for Christians.

Gandhi proclaimed, “I hope that the resolution (passed by All India Christian Conference) will be followed by corresponding action and that charkha and khadi will be as popular among the Christians as they have become among Hindus and Musalmans.” (CWMG, Vol.22, p.169)

Gandhi’s emphasis on spinning wheel and Khadi graduated overtime from acceptance of mills to their exclusion. He ultimately told Indians to “manufacture own cloth and the present moment, only by hand-spinning and hand-weaving.” (Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Vol.II, DG Tendulkar, 1951, p.21)

Gandhi was against passing off silk, woollen or jute as Khadi. He said, “Silk-thread, jute fibre and wool woven in this manner (after weaving it) may be called, if we like, silk, jute and woollen Khadi respectively. But it would be ridiculous for anyone dressed in Khadi silk to claim that he was encouraging Khadi.” (CWMG, Vol.23, p.463)

By merely not putting his picture with the spinning wheel and Khadi, you cannot break Gandhi’s association with the two.

The espousal of charkha by Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not be morally right but hardly has the potential to take away anything from its association with Gandhi. For it has been done in an entirely different context. The setting has no hostile foreign government to checkmate the old symbol of swadeshi and the freedom struggle.'

The Mahatma will forever be the primary brand ambassador not just for the spinning wheel and Khadi but also swadeshi, truth, satyagraha and non-violence.

Also read: Khadi, Modi, Gandhi - which is the real brand?

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Narendra Kaushik Narendra Kaushik @akhinikhi

The writer is a journalist based in Delhi and contributor for Bangkok Post.

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