Sunday, January 15, 2017

Not a marketing gimmick

Pankaj Sharma
16 January 2017

Wearing designer clothes and weaving Khadi on Gandhi’s charkha!

A half-nude saint is replaced by a linen-clad fashion icon of today’s vulgar politics. Nothing could be more disgraceful and distasteful than to grab Mahatma Gandhi’s charkha in the name of marketing Khadi. Imagine Narendra Modi sitting with Gandhi’s Charkha and weaving Khadi thread while wearing designer’s clothes. It is painful to watch the audacity with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on to become the poster boy of Gandhi’s khadi by replacing the Mahatma. It surely needs a 56-inch chest, without a heart and a zero sensing brain on the top of it.

I thought fancy dress events are things of childhood, and when grown-ups indulge in such activities, they become laughing stock. But, nonetheless, India has a Prime Minister who cares little for such ideas and finds himself fit for the job of imitating the acts of the great souls without realising that it needs much more than to steal the symbols to reach the level of greatness the icons like Gandhi commands. Modi does not bother for the adverse opinion his photos on the calendar and diary produced by Khadi and Village Industry Commission (KVIC) has generated across the country.

Modi’s lieutenants have no hitch in going one step ahead and defend the replacement of Gandhi on KVIC calendar. A senior minister of Haryana’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, Anil Vij, has openly said that it is good that Mahatma Gandhi’s image has been removed from the calendar as PM Modi is a better brand than the father of the nation. “Ever since Mahatma Gandhi’s name has been associated with Khadi, Khadi has not been able to make any progress. The sale of Khadi products went down. Removing Gandhi and placing Modi’s photo on the khadi calendar, therefore, is a good step. Since Modi’s photo on the khadi calendar the sale of khadi products has gone up by 14 per cent,” Vij said.

The minister does not stop here. He wants Gandhi photo to be removed from the notes of Indian currency also. Amidst the controversy Vij deliberately kicked up another storm by claiming that Mahatma Gandhi’s image is responsible for the devaluation of notes. He said, “Ever since Mahatma Gandhi’s name has been on the rupee note, it has devalued.” He also claimed that “slowly Mahatma Gandhi will disappear from the notes”. The idea of removing Mahatma is an indication of the mindset Modi’s BJP has for the real icons of India. Wiping all of them out from the thought process of Indian psyche is what the current ruling clan led by Modi desires.

KVIC Chairman Vinai Kumar Saxena, in his wisdom, has argued that this is not the first time the image of Mahatma Gandhi is not on the calendar and diary. He is silent about the calendars but emphasised that KVIC diaries did not have Gandhi on its cover page in 1996, 2002, 2005, 2011, 2013, and 2016. But his pointing out the fact tells us that even the diaries used to carry Gandhi’s image on the cover usually. As if it was not enough for the country to listen to KVIC Chairman’s views, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had to remind us that the controversy was “unnecessary” as “there is no rule in KVIC that its diary and calendar should have only Gandhiji’s photo.” Nothing could be more amusing than the arguments put forward by PMO, “Those stoking the controversy over the issue should realise that during Congress rule of 50 years, the sale of khadi remained restricted to 2 per cent to 7 per cent but in last two years, the sale has seen an unprecedented jump of 34 per cent. This is because of PM’s efforts to popularise khadi,” it said. The PMO also added, “Modi is an icon of the youth and the growing popularity of khadi in the world is a testimony to this.”

Alas! Poor Mahatma paying for not being a brand for his Khadi as he is not with us to perform at the Times Square, he is not with us to show his skills to change the single cloth he used to wear three times a day and he is not with us to realise that Khadi is no more a symbol of simplicity for which he and his followers sacrificed their lives. Times have changed. They have certainly changed in Modi regime for which Khadi is no more ‘a fabric of Indian Independence’. Modi-era wants us to forget that Khadi was a strong sign of resistance and change. The key role played by Khadi in freedom struggle is something that cannot be realised by those political outfits which played no role in India’s Independence. 

Clothes have always been integral to human identity. Gandhi played an indispensable role in making Khadi a powerful symbol of our freedom struggle, in elevating it to the status of the national fabric and injecting it into the veins of the country as an effective sense of pride. The Khadi was not the result of a whim like demonetisation, it was a well-thought-out decision of Gandhi. Khadi was the result of Gandhi’s own sartorial choices of transformation from that of an Englishman to that of one representing India. Those who are trying to become Englishman these days have no sensitivity and intellect to understand the philosophy behind Khadi. Gandhi’s Khadi recrafted the then existing politico-economic critiques with its distinctive qualities. Gandhi could convert it into a material to which people from diverse backgrounds could relate to. Khadi was the embodiment of an ideal that represented freedom from colonialism, a feeling of self-reliance and economic self-sufficiency. It embodied the national integrity, communal harmony, spiritual humility, and freedom of expression. If current ruling dispensation finds Narendra Modi a better and bigger brand for Khadi than Mahatma Gandhi, I can only sympathise with them.

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