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Gandhi and the Twenty First Century

Gandhian Approach to Rural Industrialization

By Dilip Shah

Introduction

It is a tragedy for India that we have never given a chance to ‘Gandhian Philosophy’. However, Gandhiji’s views on Khadi and Village Industries, were being followed by appointing the Khadi and Village industries Board since 1946. This article is an attempt to characterize the rural industrialization approach evolved in Gandhian Philosophy. It also briefly reviews and analysis our approach to implement this ideology based approach in practice. Some specific policy suggestions are also attempted in light of the most dominant issues experienced by us in the last fifty years.


Relevance: Logic and Approach to Rural Industrialization

Adam Smith in the British parliamentary debate had depicted the picture of a prosperous India prior to the colonial period saying that “East India offered a market for the manufacturers of Europe greater and more extensive than both Europe and America put together”. This India was destroyed by British industrialization and its backwash, disintegrating self-assured villages through progressive impoverishment of the peasants and destruction of the artisans.

Gandhi had grasped the history of India very well which he well reflected in his Hind Swaraj where he provided the main constituents of his strategy of India’s reconstruction. Gandhi made it clear that ‘modern civilization’, nourished by British rule, was the real cause of ‘economic distress’. Against that, Gandhi envisaged that the salvation of India was in the revival of its ancient civilization. Under the shadow of ancient civilization, Gandhi wanted to develop a New Social Order which was based on the foundation of non-violence and truth, where economic progress and moral progress go together and the focus is on the development of man. Life and human relations in society, village and nation in the new social order were envisaged not like pyramids with an apex sustained at the bottom but, as an oceanic circle.

To achieve this New Social Order Gandhi’s development model was evolved around “Village Development” and it is so much emphasized that it is truly coined “VILLAGISM”. Gandhi’s emphasis on village reconstruction was negatively viewed as an onslaught on the exploitative tendency inherent in industrialism and dominance by urbanization and positively viewed as an attempt to establish a non-violent social order from which exploitation is completely done away with.

‘Rural Industrialization’ was never the term used by Gandhi. However, two basic components of Gandhian development, self-sufficient villages and decentralization of economic and political powers, gave a very important place to development of Khadi and Village Industries. According to a recent study the Khadi movement was not only a mass mobilization movement against anti-imperialist struggle, it was also a social movement of recognizing women’s capacity as economically and politically active beings without whose support the goal of freedom or Swaraj would be unattainable and meaningless. In fact, Gandhi’s well known concept of ‘Living Wage For Spinners’ originated in his realizing the danger of women being paid low wages even by constructive workers.

Gandhi’s clear rationale behind the choice of Khadi was led by his anxiety of “Work to all”. He believed that Khadi and Village Industries were the only alternative. This is evident from his statement of challenge to rulers to whom he stated that, “If the government could provide full employment to all without the help of Khadi and Village Industries, I shall be prepared to wind-up my constructive programme in this sphere”. He said, “Production of Khadi includes cotton growing, picking, ginning, cleaning, carding, slivering, spinning, sizing, dyeing, preparing the warp and woof, weaving and winding. These, with the exception of dyeing, are essential processes every one of which can be effectively handled in the villages”.

Although ‘Khadi’ is the sun of the village solar system, various other industries, like planets, do have a place in the village solar system and in fact, “Those who do not see Khadi as the centre of village activities, they are welcome to concentrate their efforts on these other industries”, because a village economy can not be complete without essential industries such as hand grinding, hand pounding, soap making, paper making, metal making, tanning, oil processing, etc. Gandhi had anticipated a complimentary relationship between Khadi and Village Industries. He believed that these industries come in as hand made to Khadi. They can not exist without Khadi and Khadi will be robbed of its dignity without them.

Gandhi had not perhaps conceptualized the Khadi and Village Industry except once when he stated that ‘Khadi of my conception’ is that hand spun material which takes the place entirely, in India, of mill cloth……..and indirectly explained what is Khadi. If men and women will not take to hand spinning as a sacred duty, that is, the same person will not do carding, slivering and spinning, there is little hope for Khadi. Similarly conceptualization of village industries was left to Kumarrappa who provided the conditions to consider the industry as a village industry.

  1. Those that produce essential commodities in villages for villages.

  2. Using the local raw materials and using simple processes which are within the easy reach of villages.

  3. Requiring only such tools and implements which can be acquired within the financial capacity of the villages.

  4. With the aid of human or animal power since they are easily available in the villages.

  5. Meeting the demand of local or immediate surrounding population.

  6. That which does not cause displacement of labour.

These characteristics widened the scope of village industries and at the same time ensured the absence of concentration, violence, exploitation, inequality and anti-nature industrialization.

The question of market, method of production by machine tool or technology and credit etc. which have occupied a major significance in the post-independent period of rural industrialization, did not have a place in the initial stages, but came into the picture during the post independence period and Gandhi’s stand on the issues have undergone change.

The question of a market for Khadi was not significant to Gandhi. In the sense, that Khadi was conceived with a much more ambitious object i.e. to make our villages starvation-proof. He believed that, “This is impossible unless the villages will wear Khadi themselves, sending only the surplus to the cities. The singular secret of Khadi lies in its salability in the place of its production and use to the manufacturers themselves”. However, finding problems for a market for Khadi, Gandhi in 1946, accepted “Commercial Khadi” as a “go-cart”. He said, “We ourselves are responsible for the creation of this problem, we did not know the science of Khadi, we do not know it fully even now. Therefore, like children, we stumble again and again and thereby learn to work. In order that we may not fall so as never to rise again we made use of a go-cart and are still using it”. In so far as the village industries are concerned Gandhi believed that the question of demand does not arise as the expansion of village industries is related to demand which did exist in the villages. He said, “Given the demand, there is no doubt that most of our wants can be supplied from our villages”.

Gandhi insisted on “Primitive methods” of production in the village industry and explained that, “I suggest the return because there is no other way of giving employment to the millions of villagers who live in idleness”. Mechanization he regarded as evil in view of more hands than required in work. However, in the later periods, Gandhi accepted the role of small equipments, machines, tools and technology, which should not replace labour but reduce the cost and drudgery of labour and increase efficiency of labour. Thus, Gandhian design of rural industrialization was developed in the passage of time.


Review of Ideology Based Approach Practised in India

There are three basic evidences of accepting Gandhian rural industrial approach in India. First, right from the industrial policy of 1948 till the New Small Enterprise Policy of 1991, we have placed Khadi and Village Industries as the prime instrument of promotion of rural employment and rural economy. There are specific studies which analyzed the role of village industries as expressed in all the industrial statements. These statements have become the guide lines of the plans relating to K.V.I. As early as 1953 we established an exclusive institution of Khadi and Village Industries Board and later established a Khadi and Village Industries Commission in 1957. It was asked to assume responsibility for initiating, assisting and financing Khadi programmes on a much wider basis, make it a part of the whole development programme of the country and an essential constituent of a planned economy in the making.

The first plan had adopted a complete ‘Gandhian’ perspective in development of KVIC as it was decided to be developed ‘with processing of local raw material for the local market with simple techniques (1951). As an appropriate method of protection a “Common Minimum Programme” was formulated, which was mainly related to reservation of production, restriction on capacity expansion and continuation of research. A multi-institutional approach was developed by establishing a separate institution like the KVIC Board, Hand-loom Board, Handicraft Board and Small Scale Industries Board for their development.

The Second Five Year Plan gave a very strategic place to village industries to generate marketable surplus as consumer goods to support heavy industry development without inflation and also gave a task to liquidate unemployment as quickly as possible. The basic approach for the KVIC was worked out by the panel of economists appropriate to the development of these sectors. The Kurvey Committee of 1955 led to the establishment of KVIC and it also suggested distribution of 2-5 million ambar charkhas technologically improved hand spinning equipment. The Zaman Committee advocated the decentralization of Khadi work, recognition of large certified institutions and formation of co-operatives (1959). The Gyanchand Committee appointed to evaluate Khadi, pointed out the vicious cycle of low output, low wages and even falling wages as the central problem. It advocated that the yarn production through the traditional charkha to provide relief to distressed persons should be separated from the economic problem for Khadi production as an employment generation activity. The Nathu Committee in 1962 recommended that the policy of production and sales should be reoriented to effect at least 40% of sales within the district and 80% within the state and export to other states should not exceed 20%. The Ashok Mehta Committee on KVIC in 1968 attempted to evolve a fresh approach to development based on the three basic components of producing salable articles, providing employment to people in backward areas, tribal and inaccessible areas, famine and drought stricken areas and also the backward and less privileged section of the population and to create self-reliance and community spirit among rural people.

Apart from suggesting specific target groups, it also recommended minimum wage for spinners at a level equal to off-season agricultural wages and a seven year programme for progressive improvement of techniques was recommended to achieve viability defined in terms of minimum earning of the artisan without any protection. It also recommended that the Khadi programme of the new model charkha should be developed on a commercial basis, keeping the element of grants and subsidies to the minimum. However, without an ensured market, at a given level of output, it created a problem of unemployment for traditional spinners and weavers, though marginally subsidy element could be reduced.

However, our efforts to implement the recommended approach in various Plans, are the feeble exercises initiated in the Second and Third Plans to integrate Khadi and Village Industries with larger programmes of rural development, came to an abrupt end with an abandonment of the Community Development Programmes and the dismantling of block machinery in most of the states. Programmes like Crash Scheme of Rural Employment and Drought Prone Area Programme were introduced to battle the rising unemployment, they remained and continue to remain land based activities oriented to agriculture. KVIC with its character of skilled based activities and artisans was by and large not drawn in these special employment programmes.

In the policy packaged for KVIC in the Eighth Plan there was nothing notable except, (a) encouragement for modernization and technological up-gradation and (b) to set up a monitoring agency to ensure the genuine credit needs of this sector and also insurance to review all the statuettes, regulations and procedures to ensure that their operation does not militate the interest of the small and village industries. It also stated that it is possible to dovetail the programmes of Khadi and Village Industries, Handlooms, Sericulture and Handicrafts to integrate local areas of development programmes for villages for poverty alleviation through increase in employment. However, no steps are suggested to implement this policy in practice.

We find that during the Second Plan period KVIC was given great significance which went on declining. Its approach changed and the direction of the change was pointing towards sacrificing the ideological character of KVIC envisaged by Gandhiji in the name of a pragmatic approach. The diminished significance of KVIC is reflected in the allocation of the resources in various Plans.


Dominant Issues and Major Policy Suggestions

Our failure to achieve an impressive dent in our problem of poverty and unemployment alleviation through an ideology based on Gandhian rural industrialization approach we may address these problems and solutions as follows:

  1. After almost five decades, we have not been able to resolve the age old problem of adequate earnings for those who choose to work on Khadi. Our attempts to introduce new technology in spinning failed to generate adequate and attractive earnings. A recent study conducted by the Centre for Women’s Development Studies have shown that even in Gujarat the per capita income of a Khadi worker was not only inadequate to cross the poverty line but was consistently lower than any other sector in recent years.

  2. The major problem faced by the KVIC is that of a market for their goods.

  3. The marketable surplus with KVIC has failed to popularize the new technology of production. In fact, at a given level of output without an adequate market technology leads to unemployment of those who are already engaged in the Khadi industry.

  4. All the evidence of performance like that of output, productivity, employment, technology transfer, investment allocation and utilization, preference for workers for alternate occupation, consumer’s presence and even government etc. show the fact that Khadi is declining, while village industries have a better scope and potential.

  5. Institutional development to promote marketing and production via ‘Co-operatives’ has failed. Co-operatives provided an opportunity to establish a non-exploitative, self-employed and self-reliant rural community. Hardly 5% of the production of Khadi was accounted for by the co-operatives. Most of the co-operatives in Khadi were found dormant and “displaying the characteristics of ignorance and non-participation”.

  6. 70% of KVIC time and energy was being spent on routine administration, leaving little time for its main function. Their cost of operation has gone on increasing as indicated by declining earnings and increasing non-wage cost.

  7. Finally, KVIC is expected to alleviate poverty in those areas that are really backward. It is expected to play a greater role in such areas. However, KVIC work is very poorly spread in those states where they are supposed to work most effectively.

There are a large number of Review Committee Reports and even some research studies to provide policy guidance. It is unfortunate that Plan documents have not taken note of such documents. Some broad policy suggestions are:

  1. We must accept that village industries have a better scope for development. KVIC should concentrate only on the most potential industries as pointed out in the Eighth Plan. Though there are 96 industries presently within the preview of KVIC, it would be better to concentrate on those 15 industries for which there is enough infrastructure, powerful tools and technology and adequate provision for training as well as a potential market. These industries should be ensured of getting raw materials. The raw material function alone can enhance the artisans earnings from 5% to 35%.

  2. The intervention of voluntary agencies with innovative approaches could certainly help in the promotion of village industries.

  3. The marketing of the Khadi product is a crucial issue. If there is a strong intervention of devoted voluntary agencies Khadi production could be sold in the local market.

In Gujarat state, there are institutions which have sold 90% of Khadi amongst tribals who have themselves produced it. Apart from aggressive marketing, taking into account the consumer’s preference, taste, price and other related factors including cost of production, we should try to educate the consumers and cast on them social responsibility. Consumers should be oriented to think of the origin of Khadi, production process, relevance of buying it, ecological significance, etc. The government itself could help in the promotion of Khadi by becoming a bigger buyer than the 5% it now buys mostly in the form of woolen blankets. There are a large number of products the government could buy from KVIC which would help more than blanket subsidies.

The performance of KVIC in the technology development sector is very poor. It is the key to the development of KVIC. The withdrawal of the Department of Science and Technology from KVIC is disappointing and they need to review their relationship. The KVIC should have very strong links with national laboratories, research organizations and manufacturing institutions for transference of technology.


Conclusion:

Gandhiji’s approach to rural industrialization was evolved over a period of time. Our success in its implementation was less than desirable. However, it should not lead us to believe that we must get rid of this as a burden of ‘Gandhian Legacy’. We should keep in mind the following words of Pandit Nehru in his famous Gandhigram Speech, “I begin to think more and more of Mahatma Gandhi’s approach. It is odd that I am mentioning his name in this connection: that is to say, I am entirely an admirer of the modern machine and want the best machinery and the best technique. But taking things as they are in India, however rapidly we advance in the machine ageand we will do sothe fact remains that large numbers of our people are not touched and will not be touched by it for a considerable time. Some other methods will have to be evolved by us for a considerable time. Some of the methods have to be evolved so that they become partners in production even though the production apparatus of theirs may not be efficient as compared to modern techniques, but we must use that; otherwise, it is wasted”. This statement is self-explanatory and in favour of more sincere and sustained efforts to develop rural industries on Gandhian lines.

[Source: International Workshop on NON-VIOLENT STRUGGLES IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AND THEIR LESSONS FOR THE TWENTY FIRST, October 5-12, 1999, New Delhi]