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Reviving Khadi: A Cultural and Economic Renaissance

The narrative of Khadi's resurgence is not just a story of economic achievement but also a tale of empowerment, inclusivity and cultural preservation under the astute leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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Clothing, or "kapda" in Hindi, is essential for a dignified life, embodying self-respect, and identity. In India's history, cloth, particularly Khadi, played a crucial role in challenging foreign rule, as seen in the Swadeshi Movement against British colonialism. Khadi symbolized resistance and rebellion, representing national pride and economic independence. Woven by local artisans, Khadi became a metaphor for self-reliance, extending beyond attire to a socio-political statement—a visual manifesto for freedom. Intricately tied to India's journey to independence, Khadi, epitomised by Mahatma Gandhi's charkha, stands as a testament to the nation's pursuit of self-sufficiency and autonomy.

As time unfolded, Khadi, once a symbol of pride and resistance, faced the inevitable challenge of fading into the background as newer, more dazzling materials entered the market. The allure of rayon, nylon, and other modern fabrics, with their ease of mass production, affordability, and durability, momentarily eclipsed the humble Khadi. Forgotten in the recesses of closets, Khadi underwent a temporary eclipse, overshadowed by the glint of technological progress. At its essence, Khadi is more than a mere garment; it embodies the spirit of Indian cottage industries and the skilled artisans who meticulously craft it. The charkha, once a symbol of defiance, is the traditional spinning implement used to create Khadi—a handspun and hand-woven cloth. Its raw materials, whether cotton, silk, or wool, are transformed into threads through a process that preserves centuries-old artisanal traditions. Khadi was not just a sartorial evolution; it was a movement towards self-reliance. The geographical diversity of India is mirrored in the sourcing of Khadi cloth. The silk variety originates from states like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and the Northeastern regions. Cotton, another fundamental raw material, is cultivated in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal. Khadi poly finds its origins in the textile hubs of Gujarat and Rajasthan, while the woollen variety is associated with the states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. 

The pivotal role of Khadi in the nationalist struggle becomes evident through its association with Mahatma Gandhi, who transformed it into a national identity akin to sacred cloth. Gandhi's embodiment of his ideals was exemplified by his personal adoption of Khadi, symbolising freedom, and self-sufficiency or Aatmanirbharta. He rejected English attire in favour of the "Economics of Cloth" outlined in "Hind Swaraj," highlighting how British policies had harmed the Indian economy. Khadi, influenced by Gandhi, evolved into a potent symbol connecting personal choices to broader socio-economic and nationalist narratives.

Post-independence however, Mahatma Gandhi's vision of making Khadi the preferred fabric for every Indian remained unrealised. The initial enthusiasm for Khadi diminished as the fervour of the independence struggle waned, and the symbolic importance of Khadi as the "freedom fabric" faded away. In the aftermath of 1947, India embarked on a path of industrialization, with entrepreneurs establishing large-scale textile mills for mass production of cheaper fabrics. Khadi, being labour-intensive and hand-spun, struggled to compete with machine-made textiles, which became the preferred choice due to their cost-effectiveness. Although there were works on this front like in 1956, the All India Spinners' Association (AISA) gave way to the establishment of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), signalling a shift towards promoting Khadi production and other cottage or village industries. However, notwithstanding government support in the form of subsidies, grants, and discounts, the Khadi industry faced challenges in becoming a financially viable enterprise. The liberalisation of the Indian economy from the 1990s further complicated matters. Research has revealed a decline in Khadi production between 1997 and 2002, attributed to sluggish sales resulting in unsold stockpiles.

Despite the considerable time that has passed since India gained independence, Khadi has struggled to attain the widespread popularity it rightfully deserved. It was Prime Minister Modi’s government who shouldered the responsibility of revitalising and promoting Khadi as a symbol of Indian heritage and aatmanirbharta. Under his leadership, the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) experienced a renaissance. A series of visionary schemes, such as Khadi 2.0 and 'My Fabric, My Country,' were launched, rekindling the craze for Khadi once again. In a historic milestone, the last financial year, India witnessed the trade of Khadi and village industry products surging beyond Rs 1.34 lakh crore, simultaneously generating an impressive 9.54 lakh new jobs. This remarkable progress not only demonstrates the economic vitality of Khadi but also its enduring cultural and patriotic significance in contemporary India. This chapter encapsulates a narrative of continuity, where the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi is carried forward by a leader who understands the importance of preserving and promoting India's rich heritage for a brighter future. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has presented a gratified image of a robust India in front of the world by taking the 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan' to new heights. For the first time in the history of independent India, the turnover of Khadi and Village Industries Commission products has crossed Rs.1.34 lakh crores figure. Over the course of the last nine financial years, India has witnessed an extraordinary surge in the sale of indigenous Khadi products crafted by skilled artisans in rural areas, marking an unparalleled growth of 332%. This remarkable trajectory is a testament to the transformative vision and proactive measures undertaken by the government. Equally significant is the commendable milestone set by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) in generating employment opportunities in rural areas. With an impressive creation of 9,54,899 new jobs, the KVIC has played a pivotal role in empowering local communities and contributing to the overall socio-economic development of the nation. In the fiscal year 2013-14, the turnover of Khadi and Village Industries products stood at Rs.31,154 crores. Fast forward to the financial year 2022-23, and the figures have soared to an unprecedented Rs.1,34,630 crores, reaching an all-time high. This phenomenal achievement not only reflects the economic robustness of the Khadi sector but also underscores the sustained commitment to nurturing indigenous industries. 

This growth is indicative of a strategic and concerted effort to elevate Khadi from a traditional fabric to a prominent player in the larger textile landscape. Khadi's production has also experienced a substantial uptick, with an increase of 65.42 million square metres in the past five years. This surge not only reflects increased demand but also the successful implementation of initiatives aimed at enhancing the quality and quantity of Khadi products. A spectrum of initiatives has contributed to this unprecedented growth, including non-collateral loans under the Mudra scheme for artisans, provision of raw materials at concessional prices, exhibitions to boost sales, and the implementation of schemes like One District One Product (ODOP). The establishment of Ekta Mall in state capitals to promote handloom products has been a pivotal step in elevating local products and further fuelling the growth of the sector.

The commendable statistic of 9,54,899 new jobs created in rural areas by KVIC stands as a testament to the government's commitment to fostering sustainable livelihoods and economic prosperity at the grassroots level. Prime Minister Modi's strategic emphasis on platforms like the Government e-marketplace, coupled with targeted interventions in traditional industries, has evidently translated into tangible socio-economic outcomes. The success story of Khadi's resurgence, as articulated through these statistics, reflects a broader commitment to Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) and celebrates the tireless efforts of artisans and entrepreneurs across the country. In conclusion, the narrative of Khadi's resurgence is not just a story of economic achievement but also a tale of empowerment, inclusivity, and cultural preservation under the astute leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dr Anil Agrawal, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha 

Nishant Kumar Hota, a public policy consultant

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Self-Reliant India economic connectivity economy

Dr Anil Agrawal

The author is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

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Nishant Kumar Hota

The author is a public policy consultant

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