Tag Archives: spinning-wheel

Nehru On Gandhi, Views On Political Culture – by Prem Misir

Gandhi and Nehru


In an effort to review India’s emergent move into global economic dominance I thought that it might be useful to look at a few of Gandhi’s ideas of something called ‘political culture’ through the eyes of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. And indeed, Gandhi and Nehru did not have a monopoly over ideas to craft a new political culture. But we have to start somewhere. I present these ideas randomly, not for integrative purposes.

Nehru admired Gandhi’s constant focus on the ‘right way’ of doing things; using the correct methods for doing things. Stress on using the right means to achieve ends was one of Gandhi’s great contributions to public life. Where most people think about ends, it seems strange that Gandhi would concentrate on means; but it is an extraordinary way of thinking; thinking linked to the moral law of truth that may have hugely impacted India. Nehru endorsed the use of an ethical or moral perspective on life; and both Nehru and Gandhi sought to infuse this moral law of truth in politics. Gandhi’s moral approach to problem solving brought a significant new dimension to Indian political behaviour; Nehru observed the moral impact on politics, thus:

“Politics cease to be just expediency and opportunism, as they have usually been everywhere, and there is a continuous moral tussle preceding thought and action. Expediency… can never be ignored, but it is toned down by other considerations and a longer view of more distant consequences … Bernard Shaw has said that though he (Gandhi) may commit any number of tactical errors, his essential strategy continues to be right. Most people, however, are not much concerned with the long run; they are far more interested in the tactical advantage of the moment.”

Nehru noted too the cultural impact on India of a Turkish invasion, an Afghan invasion, and a Turco-Mongol or Mughal invasion; and highlighted ‘purdah’ (seclusion of women) as one new cultural development, among others; ‘purdah’ possibly emerged during the Mughal times. Isolating women in both public and private life was noticeable in Delhi, the United Provinces, Rajputana, Bihar, and Bengal. Gandhi spoke out against ‘purdah’; through the Indian Congress Party and with the help of thousands of middle-class women, Gandhi advocated that women should have the same freedom and opportunity for self-development as males; and an end to domestic slavery. Note the constitutional provision in Guyana for the Women and Gender Equality Commission; still on paper, as the PNCR withdrew its parliamentary services on the day the item was put to the vote. Guyana is poorer with this loser mentality.

At the beginning of World War I, Pandit Nehru asked “How could we pull India out of this quagmire of poverty and defeatism…?” Nehru captured Gandhi’s answer and teaching, thus:

“… He did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition. Get off the backs of these peasants and workers … all you who live by their exploitation; get rid of the system that produces this poverty and misery.”

For Gandhi, the squalor of poverty and the great divide between the rich and the poor owed their existence to foreign rule and foreign exploitation, and capitalism through introduction of technology; Gandhi was not opposed to technology per se, but believed that it should be applied to absorb labour and not produce new unemployment.

To alleviate some poverty, Gandhi devised a programme of the spinning-wheel and village industry to address the problem of India – scarcity of capital and abundance of labour. Gandhi believed that the ends, such as profitability from technology, cannot justify the means, as unemployment to attain prosperity; he understood that moral values must first triumph, as the ends cannot substantiate disreputable means, no matter how good the ends are.

But Nehru believed that the real meaning of Gandhi’s teaching was fearlessness and truth with allied action, at all times upholding the welfare of the masses. This was the period of British rule of India, at a time when deep-seated fear stalked the land; fear of British institutions. Gandhi’s voice on truth and fearlessness brought some change and a psychological reaction that enabled people to feel ashamed about their long capitulation to foreign rule; and indeed the desire to do something about it. And this is true, too, of his nationalism, inevitable for the freedom of India.

It always has been the norm that a country will first protect its national interests before it considers the international community interests. And Nehru noted that Gandhi’s nationalism deviated from that norm; for the longevity of foreign rule and exploitation in India became an irritant to the mind and distorted all thought and action; producing frustration and bitterness. But Gandhi’s nationalism had a world outlook, where he visualized a world federation of interdependent states; and Gandhi created a nationalist movement that reduced irritation and animosity that Indians felt against the British. Nehru remarked that he had not seen any other nationalist movement like Gandhi’s, largely devoid of hatred. Incidentally, Dr. Cheddi Jagan also spoke about interdependence between the North and South in his New Global Human Order proposal.

Through Nehru’s eyes, we saw how Gandhi’s passion for democracy transformed the Congress Party into a mass movement; becoming an agrarian organisation; how the success of anything was premised on the quantity and quality of benefits the masses receive; a unique and quiet kind of democracy for the masses, definitively linked to the freedom of India.

Prem Misir is Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana.

Book Review – Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India

Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India
Lida Trivedi
Indiana University Press 2007 pp205

Lida Trivedi teaches at Hamilton College in USA. On a study tour of India she travelled with, among others, an uncle who was a former freedom fighter and labour leader. Travelling for four months across northern and western India she had the opportunity to meet many who had taken part in the struggle. In addition the oldest sister of her father taught her to spin on the charka. So she learned about khadi and swadeshi as the material facts of India’s national politics.

Her study is about khadi – the self-made cotton for daily use and the role it played in the national struggle for independence. For many people outside India – and I was certainly one of them – the making and selling of khadi is an economic process. Khadi had to replace the imported cloth from Britain to re-establish the former Indian textile industry.

The movement which supported the idea was named swadeshi, the approach to economic self-reliance. One of the eleven Gandhian virtues, swadeshi meant belonging to or being made in one’s own country. This policy of self-reliance meant in practice using only Indian-made cloth. In a wider sense it meant establishing India’s economic autonomy as the basis for future self-government.

Thus khadi meant three different but related things: as a material artifact of the nation; part of a national economic policy; a visual symbol of the Indian people. In doing so it challenged the political boundaries of both traditional Indian society and the British colonial regime. The swadeshi movement found popular support and after some time the Indian National Congress through the Congress Working Committee created the All India Khaddar Board, comprising technical instruction, production and sales. It established in 1922 a new school to train swadeshi workers – the Akila Khadi Vidyalaya, which was in many ways the heart of Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement.

Within the Congress however there was controversy. One of the issues was with regard to members of Congress wearing khadi at Party functions. In keeping with the principles of mass participation the Congress Working Committee decided in 1924 that a revised franchise required that Congress membership had to be earned, not just paid. Hand-spun thread had to be donated to Congress’s Khadi Board and this had to become part of Congress membership. This decision however was not popular with many and within nine months the spinning franchise was repealed. There remained a diluted commitment to swadeshi politics and khadi.

This meant a defeat for Gandhi’s form of swadeshi but khadi was brought to the general public with great success. Gandhi formed the All-India Spinners Association in 1925 which oversaw the development of the swadeshi movement from Satyagraha Ashram. The assets of the defunct Khadi Board were transfered to this new organisation and there was support from some industrialists. Swadeshi now included other hand-produced goods.

India had known a century-long tradition of weaving and textile production including colourful clothing which was an obstacle to undyed khadi becoming popular. To counter this, promoters used exhibitions, showing of lantern-slides, the use of the Gandhi-cap, and the charka flag.

The swadeshi movement achieved three things:

  • khadi became more than a boycott of foreign goods – it became a moral system of labour and consumption for the nation. It emphasised the distinction between indigenous and foreign production.
  • it provided a heterogeneous population with a sense of a united India, relocating rural and urban India within a market-place shaped by common taste and defined by common values.
  • the habitual khadi-wearer celebrated the principle of universal labour and self-sufficiency as the basis of political community and made him or her visible as an individual.

The Gandhi cap or topi emerged as a symbol of political dissent and as a signal of one’s obligations, thus khadi became more than an economic issue. One more product of the khadi movement is worth mentioning, that is the flag of India. It no longer bears the symbol of the charka, the swadeshi movement emblem, but the Ashoka chakra wheel or dharma wheel, but it still represents the hopes and aspirations of the people of India. The flag still has to be made of hand-spun and hand-woven wool, cotton or silk.

Lisa Trivedi has written a penetrating and comprehensive study of khadi in a lively style and is a pleasure to read.

Piet Dijkstra


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