Drape your saree well, Thank you Mr Modi

Dr. Neerja Misra, Associate Professor, B.S.N.V. (P.G.) College, Lucknow: I have always worn my saris with pride. In a research and teaching career spanning three decades, I have managed to get together a fairly decent collection of them, brought from the handloom outlets of almost every state of the country. Finally, I now have the approval of the Prime Minister. For the first time on May 12, the Indian Premier called for the use of Indian products with pride. Mr. Modi has always favored the Indian attire, leading to a spurt in the sales of the “Modi Jacket” a few years ago. Of late, he has appeared on television with his nose and mouth covered with an Indian handloom cloth, the “Gamcha”. This has also led to a huge spike in the demand for the red and white cloth. However, it has taken a crisis as huge as the Pandemic for the Prime Minister to finally verbally vouch for Indian products while addressing the nation. Had this come a few years earlier, a number of problems that the nation is facing today would have been much milder.

In India, lack of economically viable employment forces a large number of workers to migrate to larger cities in search of better opportunities. It also leads to trafficking of children for labor. However, had the use of domestic products been advocated with same zeal as the “Swacch Bharat” mission, migration could have been reduced by a great extent. Protection of domestic industries has many forms-it is always not necessary to create bad blood by imposing heavy and discouraging duties-a simple dose of nationalism will achieve the same effect. This method has already been used very effectively in the past-by Mahatma Gandhi. We failed to realize how slowly and steadily cheap Chinese products invaded our markets creating havoc on our employment and domestic production. It was a vicious cycle: the poor brought the cheap Chinese products further worsening the situation of poverty and unemployment. Had Mr. Modi done a few years ago what he has done today, the problem of migration would have been much less.

The strength of advertisement is immense: especially if it is done by the Prime Minister. The effect of support to the “Swacch Bharat” mission by people like Baba Ram Dev, Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar and Kiran Bedi to name a few is clearly visible. Ever since it was launched in 2014 and vigorously campaigned by Mr. Modi himself, open defecation has reduced considerably, millions of toilets have been constructed between 2014 and 2019, and solid waste management has improved in both the rural and urban areas of the country. It is this same zeal and support that is required to help the domestic industries and its workers. This support will have many benefits: new domestic products will be launched in the market, consumers will be educated, there will be an incentive to make better quality products, sales of domestic goods will increase, employment opportunities will be created at places where labor is easily available thereby leading to a reduction in migration and improvement in the standard of living of the labourers. Above all, it will create goodwill between countrymen.

India has seen a number of successful movements in the past- each led by a single person- from Gandhi’s Swadeshi Movement in 1905 and the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 to the more recent, Jan Lokpal Bill led by Anna Hazare in 2011. These were events that brought together a huge number of people and created a rare kind of solidarity among our countrymen. It is true that only once in a while a situation is created wherein a small initiative has snowballed into a massive movement. Today, this Pandemic has created such a situation. The timing is perfect. People are realizing that they cannot deal with this alone. They are coming to terms with the fact that their wellbeing is dependent on the wellbeing of others. The mass exodus of migrant labourers and their plight has created a wave of sympathy across the nation. A kind of brotherhood and a will to do something for their own countrymen is slowly taking root. At a time like this, a call by the Prime Minister to reduce dependence on foreign goods and to use more swadeshi can prove to be a master stroke. What is needed is a massive follow up. The media can support the initiative by getting its anchors to adorn the Indian attire. Newsreaders of the 1980’s and 1990’s like Neeti Ravindran, Geetanjali Aiyer, Minu Talwar and Salma Sultanwere always seen in saris which generated a wave of awe and admiration. The IITs-BHU, Kanpur and Powai (Mumbai)have lately chosen the Indian attire and khadi over colonial gowns. We need icons like Priyanka Chopra, Salman Khan, Virat Kholi and Kailash Kher to come forward and support this call. Only then will we finally see the dawn of a new era of nationalism. Better late than never, Mr. Prime Minister!

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