Mahatma Gandhi began his movement for khadi, clothes made from handspun cotton, with a view to triggering an economic activity in rural areas so as to make the Indian people self-sufficient and self-reliant.
It was indeed a revolutionary idea that contributed hugely to the country’s struggle for freedom from the British rule. After Independence, khadi became a way of life for the leaders of the Congress party that ruled India for the next few decades.
With the help of the central government and state governments, cooperative societies were formed by Gandhians to popularize khadi and handloom clothes across the country.
In former prime minister Indira Gandhi, India got a brand ambassador for handloom sarees. After Janata Party came to power in 1977, the then prime minister Morarji Desai too tried hard to popularize khadi and handloom.
However, despite all efforts, except the political class, khadi and handloom clothes could not catch the fancy of a majority of the Indians.
Following economic liberalization, the market for khadi and handloom sector further got squeezed as men went for branded clothes and a large chunk of women replaced sarees with other trendy attires. Even younger politicians also opted for designer clothes and T-shirts.
At these critical times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated appeal to people to adopt khadi clothes assumes significance. Some news reports suggest that after Modi’s call, sales for khadi and handloom have increased in some upmarket shops in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
But that is not enough because such appeals have a momentary effect. There has to be some concrete action plan to revive and popularize khadi and handloom for the interests of the nation because the sector is an integral part of our economy.
A major boost to this sector will have a huge trickle-down effect directly benefiting millions of weavers engaged in it.
The health of our economy depends on the choices we make. It is prudent economic sense to consume locally made products be it food, clothes or any other consumer items. And khadi and handloom clothes are very basic products made locally.
For instance, Tamil Nadu has a thriving and sustainable economy because a majority of people still use clothes from local looms (hand or power).
The economy will collapse if all women and men stop wearing traditional sarees and “mundus” and opt for some other “modern” attires like people in northern India.
It is very important to tag the national identity with khadi and handloom. The government can ask the ministers, MPs, MLAs and, most importantly, government officials, to wear khadi and handloom regularly so as to acquaint the massive middle class, the main consumers in India today, with it.
Another step will be to make prominent people, who use khadi and handloom regularly, as brand ambassador, irrespective of their party affiliation – for khadi kurta Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi can be a good choice and for handloom sarees, nobody is better than West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Incidentally, present dedicated and committed band of khadi and handloom users happen to be thousands of grassroots activists fighting against mining, displacement, and other such corporate-driven activities across the country.
Among them are leftists and socialists often branded as “anti-nationals” by BJP’s ideological mentor RSS and its other affiliated organizations.
Unfortunately, RSS recently missed a chance to opt for khadi as it changed the uniform from Khaki knickers to brown trousers for lakhs of its volunteers. Nevertheless, it can take the khadi plunge with its white shirt.
Let khadi and handloom be the melting pot of all ideologies!!