From its very inception the khadi movement, Swadeshi movement as it was then called, evoked much criticism from the mill-owners. The late Umar Sobani, a capable mill-owner himself, not only gave me the benefit of his own knowledge and experience, but kept me in touch with the opinion of the other mill-owners as well. The argument advanced by one of these deeply impressed him. He pressed me to meet him. I agreed. Mr. Sobani arranged the interview. The mill-owner opened the conversation.
'You know that there has been Swadeshi agitation before now?'
'Yes, I do,' I replied.
'You are also aware that in the days of the Partition we, the mill-owners, fully exploited the Swadeshi movement. When it was at its
height, we raised the prices of cloth, and did even worse things.'
'Yes, I have heard something about it, and it has grieved me.'
'I can understand your grief, but I can see no ground for it. We are
not conducting our business out of philanthropy. We do it for
profit, we have got to satisfy the shareholders. The price of an
article is governed by the demand for it. Who can check the law of
demand and supply? The Bengalis should have known that their
agitation was bound to send up the price of Swadeshi cloth by
stimulating the demand for it.'
I interrupted: 'The Bengalis like me
were trustful in their nature. They believed, in the fullness of
their faith, that the mill-owners would not be so utterly selfish
and unpatriotic as to betray their country in the hour of its need,
and even to go the length, as they did, of fraudulently passing off
foreign cloth as Swadeshi.'
'I knew your believing nature,' he rejoined; 'that is why I put you
to the trouble of coming to me, so that I might warn you against
falling into the same error as these simple-hearted Bengalis.'
With these words the mill-owner beckoned to his clerk who was
standing by to produce samples of the stuff that was being
manufactured in his mill. Pointing to it he said: 'Look at this
stuff. This is the latest variety turned out by our mill. It is
meeting with a widespread demand. We manufacture it from the waste.
Naturally, therefore, it is cheap. We send it as far North as the
valleys of the Himalayas. We have agencies all over the country,
even in places where your voice or your agents can never reach. You
can thus see that we do not stand in need of more agents. Besides,
you ought to know that India's production of cloth falls far short
of its requirements. The question of Swadeshi, therefore, largely
resolves itself into one of production. The moment we can increase
our production sufficiently, and improve its quality to the
necessary extent, the import of foreign cloth will automatically
cease. My advice to you, therefore, is not to carry on your agitation on
its present lines, but to turn your attention to the erection of
fresh mills. What we need is not propaganda to inflate demand for
our goods, but greater production.'
'Then, surely, you will bless my effort, if I am already engaged in
that very thing?' I asked.
'How can that be?' he exclaimed, a bit puzzled, 'but maybe, you
are thinking of promoting the establishment of new mills, in which
case you certainly deserve to be congratulated.'
' I am not doing exactly that,' I explained, 'but I am engaged in
the revival of the spinning wheel.'
'What is that?' he asked, feeling still more at sea. I told him all
about the spinning wheel, and the story of my long quest after it,
and added, 'I am entirely of your opinion; it is no use my becoming
virtually an agent for the mills. That would do more harm than good
to the country. Our mills will not be in want of custom for a long
time to come. My work should be, and therefore is, to organize the
production of handspun cloth, and to find means for the disposal of
the khadi thus produced. I am, therefore, concentrating my attention
on the production of khadi. I swear by this form of Swadeshi,
because through it I can provide work to the semi-starved,
semi-employed women of India. My idea is to get these women to spin
yarn, and to clothe the people of India with khadi woven out of it.
I do not know how far this movement is going to succeed, at present
it is only in the incipient stage. But I have full faith in it. At
any rate it can do no harm. On the contrary to the extent that it
can add to the cloth production of the country, be it ever so small,
it will represent so much solid gain. You will thus perceive that my
movement is free from the evils mentioned by you.'
He replied, 'If you have additional production in view in organizing
your movement, I have nothing to say against it. Whether the
spinning wheel can make headway in this age of power machinery is
another question. But I for one wish you every success.