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The Economics of Khadi
By Dr. Namita Nimbalkar*

Gandhian economics cannot be regarded as a distinct subject or discipline. It can at best be regarded as teachings and practices of Mahatma Gandhi. It includes study of all relevant economic activities having a relevance to Indian conditions. These economic activities include production, distribution, consumption, public finance and sarvodaya. The core of the Gandhian economics is the basic principles of truth and non violence. Therefore Gandhian economics refers to all such economic activities undertaken within the framework of truth and non violence and accepted ethical standards in which man is regarded as the central point of the study.

Features of Gandhian Economics:
The features of Gandhian economics are many and varied. It is not possible to list them all, let alone explain them in depth. However, the salient features of Gandhian economics are listed below:
  1. Acceptance of truth and nonviolence as the basic principles of Gandhian economics.
  2. As against the trend of maximization of wants Gandhian economics intends to achieve the minimisations of wants.
  3. Instead of utilitarian doctrine, sarvodaya - the welfare of all, is to be regarded as the final goal of man.
  4. Acceptance of the trusteeship theory of property.
  5. Achieving self sufficiency at individual, family, village and national level.
  6. Decentralisation of power and administration, so that real democracy is enjoyed by the people.
  7. Adopting labour intensive methods and opposing mechanisations in general and in particular labour replacing machineries.
  8. Manual labour should be recognised as a must and in no way inferior to mental labour.
  9. Adoption of swadeshi culture in which only the home made goods are used.
  10. Man should be given top priority. He should be both the means and the end in Gandhian economics.
  11. Prevalence of khadi and small scale industries which include Home industries, Cottage industries and village industries.
  12. Adoption of need based consumption so that the genuine needs of the others are also satisfied.
  13. Conservation of resources.
  14. Interest of both the individuals and the society should be simultaneously satisfied.

Man-centered Economics
The ultimate social order envisioned by the Gandhian economics is the goal of promotion of happiness of all, material as well as non material. The social order comes through general acceptance of higher values of life, subordination of self realisation and integrated development of individual personality.
Gandhi aims at radical reconstruction of the economy on the basis of need based as opposed to want based activities and thus ensure lasting happiness and social harmony. In a need based economy the vital economic decisions will be made exogenously rather than by the rules of the game of the private enterprise economy where maximisation of private gain and accumulation is the only virtue.
Gandhi was anxious to cure unemployment and to remove poverty from the rural areas. For this he suggested the growth and development of cottage industries. According to him, maximum effort should be made by the villagers to make themselves self- sufficient in regard to their own needs. He did not like to see the surplus labour in the villages remain idle. Gandhi was interested to provide work and income to the rural population within the villages. The Mahatma preferred self defined work rather than stranger defined work. Gandhi was of the view that the panacea to solve the problems of poverty lies in increasing the opportunities for self defined work.
Gandhi's approach aims at improving the quality of life rather than attaining material prosperity. According to him wealth and income are the means of human welfare and not an end in themselves. Gandhi held the view that ethical and spiritual values are superior to materialistic greed. Gandhian economics is based on three distinct ethical foundations:-
  • Only that economy, which conduces to the good of all, is good,
  • ii. All have the same right to earn their livelihood, and
  • iii. The life of a labourer, whether the tiller of the soil or the craftsman, is life worth living.

Base of Gandhian Economics: Truth and Non-violence
Gandhi tried to introduce two important aspects of Indian philosophy, truth and non violence, as the basis for economic activities for the ultimate human happiness. If the aim of economics is the ultimate happiness of the individuals, these two eternal values have to be integrated into economics for the real happiness of mankind. Gandhi said, "this society must naturally be based on truth and non - violence which in my opinion are not possible without a living belief in God. A recovery of moral and spiritual values can be possible through exercise of non - violence. It encourages an individual to think independently and radically." Far back in 1928 Gandhi warned the yoked Indians against the ills of absence of soul force - lack of moral courage - the courage to think radically, which as a consequence has brought about this deplorable state of affairs.
Gandhi has not taken truth in its literary meaning; truth is an "actual force on mental life, the kind of force that moves mountains." To Gandhi non-violence is not merely the act of refraining from doing offence, injury and harm to others, but it represents the ancient law of positive self - sacrifice and constructive suffering. What is attained through love is, retained for ail time, while what is obtained by violence has within it the seeds of its own destruction. His economics based on truth and non violence is virtually a natural economy in which the satisfaction of basic needs of life of all members of the society is assured and given top priority.

Charkha, Khadi and Gandhian Economics
Yeh charkha tope hai,
Baroodiske ban gayegole,
Isi se Lunkashayar
Manchester koudadenga.
The above lines state how charkha became synonymous to nonviolent weapon, aimed to weaken the British textile industry. It also underlines the confidence of the Indian masses to overtake the British economic and political class.
Historically the khadi movement was ideologically woven around the need to provide supplementary work to idle or underemployed rural hands. As it was designed to cater primarily to a rural workforce, khadi required simple, comprehensible technology and a local resource base for both its production and consumption. It was round this constructive ideology that a political movement was built. It had a practical dimension of being a subsidiary occupation for India's famished rural masses and a symbolic value of being a mascot of mobilisation for India's freedom struggle. The khadi movement was a campaign to establish a non - violent economic order.
Mahatma Gandhi introduced Khadi economics in India as a social experiment. It was a social venture in which khadi was to be a national industry in the interest of the masses. Khadi economics means the production, distribution, exchange and consumption of hand spun yarn and hand woven cloth. It was important from the point of view of the diminution of unemployment, increase in national production, increase in the purchasing power of the poor and the collective wealth of the nation. His stress was on the removal of poverty, ongoing work to the unemployed and underemployed millions, on seeing that villages are not denuded of their wealth, on trying to get villagers employed and happy without uprooting them, on saving man from being exploited through the machine. It was his basic and elemental humanism, ultimately based on the spiritual experience of oneness of being, the root of his economic and social theories and practice.
Gandhi's khadi movement adopted a visual medium of expression to disseminate messages, forge a nationalist consciousness and map the geographical and political boundaries of the newly 'invented nations'.
Khadi was a passion for Gandhi and it remained so till his very end. It played a significant role in the struggle for freedom. Khadi was a cloth against colonialism and an idea against imperialism - freedom's fabric. Gradually it became a commodity that denoted what the entire Gandhi led freedom struggle stood for. It came to symbolise liberation, not just from the exploitative colonialism, but also from the market driven techno capitalism. It came to be identified with principles of social responsibility and neighbourly compassion. It stood for forging living bonds between the rich and the poor. It brought issues of social segregation, economic inequality and political isolation into the agenda of the national struggle. It aspired to shape the content of freedom and determine the values at stake in post - independence rivalries over resource - use. It invested moral responsibility in the representative character of democracy. It gave character to politics as well as to protest. It was a road map to swaraj.
Was charkha just a symbol of India's struggle against British imperialism? A weapon brandished to affirm her will for independence? Or was it a means to eradicate poverty and ameliorate the economic condition of the marginalised? Did it nurture political ambitions? Or did it desire only the well being of the people? For Gandhi himself charkha and khadi possessed multiple meanings.
At the beginning of his campaign, Gandhi said that khadi manufacturers provided an immediate occupation until an alternative could be found for the millions who were idle for half the year. It represented simplicity and economic freedom and peace and non-violence. It became the 'symbol of salvation' for the poor in India. It was the greatest and the most extensive national industry. The charkha provided a thread that knit the whole country into one. Spinning created a 'moral bond' between urban educated and economically well off Indians and the rural famished masses.
Gandhi's charka and khadi encompassed a symbolic connation that was used to transcend the prevailing socio-economic system. As the movement progressed, Gandhi ascribed more virtues to the cause of khadi than he had done earlier. Khadi taught him 'patience, industry and simplicity. Spinning was a protection against passion and anger. It was a shield against toxic emotions. The spinning wheel was an 'emblem of human dignity and equality', the 'handmaid of agriculture', 'the nation's second lung'.
Though Gandhi spoke of khadi's unifying influence, the act of spinning was, at the same time, a socially subversive force. In India, where Brahmins spun their own sacred thread and where the majority of its population were compulsorily excluded from the ritual of wearing the sacred thread, Gandhi by asking everyone to spin sought to implicitly undermine the influence of caste. By spinning, either one became a Sudra, as it was alleged at the time, or a Brahmin. In either situation, caste was subverted in a subtle yet substantive way. The spinning wheel, in Gandhi's vision became a symbol of self - respect, self - reliance, and economic self - sufficiency. Charkha through Gandhi's advocacy, acquired a social and political identity that was capable of generating multiple meanings.
Khadi is a 'third world' commodity. It was an attempt to make a dent in the 'drain'. Khadi was transformed by a sustained campaign into a commodity of conscious choice for the consumers. Its transformation gave cloth its character but also stifled its growth. The ideological investment into the character of khadi gave birth to a moral consumer who preferred character to cloth. Such an exercise gave khadi a unique identity, brand equity, but also imposed a self limiting variable on its wider acceptance as a commodity of general consumption. Being identified with a certain value system distinguished it from the plethora of commodity of general consumption, but its linkages with the outer manifestation and the inner being of the wearer restricted its commercial success. It became a fabric for exceptional occasion rather than a commodity of all times. Gandhi aimed to alter the inner being of Indians.
How relevant is the study of the khadi movement in today's perspective? For many, the khadi movement, despite being an obsessive ambition backed by magnificent propaganda, was a failure. For some, khadi has undergone a metamorphosis with the fashion fraternity being mobilised to upscale the 'brand'.
In its material format, khadi's future is a prisoner of its past. It is trapped within the parameters born of the historical brand building exercise. Manufacturing khadi was about providing work over a local resource base. It is another matter that it never lived to fulfil its own ideological destination. Khadi workers hoped that one day khadi would become ubiquitous and self spreading. It hasn't happened as yet and neither is there any prospect of its happening in the future.
Khadi therefore is at the threshold of being restructured and repositioned as a brand. Its position is unenviable - if it takes to commercial enticement, then it dilutes its equity that initially had gone into its brand building, and, if it abstains, it decimates itself. But from the recent trends it is evident that it has taken the former path, focusing on attractive packaging and fashion apparels to increase consumption.

Gandhi's khadi campaign was a part of the national regeneration agenda that had come to be called 'constructive work' as distinguished from the 'political work' of the Congress. The following lines were hummed by people on a large scale and it underlines the importance of khadi economics and the feeling of patriotism.
Gandhi kitakuliyanacche,
Ghargharc hale charkha.
Hamare chule par hamara bhat,
Hamare tave par hamari roti,
Ha mare charkha par hamara kapda!
Khadi was a people's movement. The people's movement seldom yields the targeted results. By its very nature, the people's movement as a rule is ranged against an established authority. The cause of the movement is generally either the insensitive misdemeanour on the part of the ruling caucus, or infringement of the given rights of the populace, or perceived wrongs committed by the authority. Through khadi, Gandhi was neither opposing nor was he involved in a protracted struggle against colonial regime, but was attempting to establish a communication with his countrymen in a space autonomous from that of the government. Gandhi's programme was for the enfranchisement of the millions of Indians by recognising the necessity and the value of non violence. It was for this that the khadi movement was a non violent programme of action. In its own limited but powerfully articulated way, khadi was an attempt at severing the economic relationship that defined colonialism. Beneath its constructive agenda, khadi was a subversive force against British supremacy. Gandhi's was the politics of the periphery. By focusing on anonymous individuals Gandhi somehow negated the presence of the citadel. Masses and not mediation was his political weapon.

  1. Gandhi, M. K., Young India, Ahmedabad
  2. Government of India, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.14, 19, 24, 28, Delhi: The Publication Division.
  3. Bakshi, S.R., Gandhi and the Mass Movements, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, 1988.
  4. Chakrabarti Mohit., The Gandhian Philosophy of the Spinning Wheel, Concept Publishing House, New Delhi, 2000.
  5. Gregg Richard B., Economics of Khaddar, S.Ganesan Publisher, Madras, 1928.
  6. Ramagundam Rahul; Gandhi's Khadi - A History of Contention and Conciliation, Orient Longman Private Ltd, New Delhi, 2008.
  7. Sharma Y.C., Cotton Khadi in Indian Economy, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1999.
Courtesy: This article has been reproduced from the ISBN Publication - Gandhi in the New Millennium - Issues and Challenges' published by Khandwala Publishing House.

* Dr. Namita Nimbalkar is a Asst. Professor, Department of Philosophy and Director, UGC sponsored Gandhian Studies Centre, Birla College, Kalyan.