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Gandhian Politics: The Role Of Khadi In Shaping Indian National Identity

3040 words - 12 pages

“Swadeshi was the soul of Swaraj and Khadi was the essence of Swadeshi.” Gandhi’s favorite obsession, khadi, played a key role in the fostering of an Indian national identity. As such, the study of khadi is integral in understanding Gandhian politics and Indian nationalism from the years 1919- 1947. However, the symbolic manifestations represented by khadi and put forth by Gandhi are not without their critics. Many historians question the effectiveness of using khadi as a national symbol and have highlighted that it undermined the pursuit of an Indian national identity rather than playing a key role in strengthening it. As such, what was khadi’s role in shaping Indian national identity?The purpose of this essay is to provide an analysis of the role played by khadi in the shaping of an Indian national identity. ‘Indian National identity’ is to be defined as the inclusion of different sections of the Indian population in pursuit of Swaraj as well as the intensification of the ‘Us and Them’ divide between the Indians and the British. With this in mind, there has been much criticism of khadhi in the economic, social and political spectrum thus questioning it’s effectiveness as a uniformed and inclusive national symbol. However, though khadi is not without its limitations, the criticisms seem to be largely based on a contemporary perspective rather than from a viewpoint taking into account the context of Indian nationalism struggling for a primary goal of sovereignty. This writer would attempt to highlight the inclusive nature of khadi with regards to different sections of the Indian population which came to be a unique feature of Gandhian politics. This writer would then analyze the key attributes of Khadi such as the advantages that came with ‘moldable definitions’, its role in visual stimulation as well as its symbolic potential which transcended the division within Indian society; qualities which invariably facilitated the intensification of the ‘Us and Them’ divide’ between the Indians and the British.Gandhi’s motivation of using Khadi as a national symbol was a strategic one as he had realized the economic, political and social potential it possessed which could facilitate Indian nationalism. khadi had a long history in Indian society where the cheapness of the fabric had led to much profitability in the handloom industry up till the 18th century until the advent of foreign cloth destroyed its value.(economic potential). Moreover, the idea of Swadeshi was already prevalent in Bengal and India by 1896 where nationalists like Naroji, Ranade, Tilak and Gokhale had promoted Swadeshi in retaliation to the influx of British goods (political potential). Besides, the power of cloth in provoking social response was personally experienced by Gandhi when he was in South Africa where Indians wearing English hats were stereotyped for being khansamas which highlighted the slave- master...

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