Swadeshi: Origin, Rationale and Relevance

While many Indian freedom fighters furthered the cause of Swadeshi, Mahatma Gandhi used it as a key component of the swaraj movement. The main focus area of the swadeshi movement was the boycott of Western, especially British, goods. There was picketing outside shops selling imported commodities, and people were encouraged to buy locally manufactured or produced goods instead. The movement had two-fold goals: to cripple the British economic system by boycotting British goods, and to revive indigenous industry in India.

Rationale behind the swadeshi movement

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, Britain’s manufacturing prowess increased manifold. It was in dire need of a market where it could sell the commodities that it produced. India, being a captive colony, became a great market for British goods. The reasoning behind the boycott was to stop the dumping of British goods in India, and deal a deadly blow to British industry and enterprise.

British policies had directly and indirectly resulted in dire consequences for Indian small-scale and cottage industries. Further, Indians were discriminated against and not allowed to operate or own a variety of factories. To stop this exploitation, and urge Indians to buy Indian products was also one of the aims of the swadeshi movement.

Relevance of swadeshi

Self-sufficiency is an important aspect that India as a nation has struggled with, and over the years this has been exhibited in various forms in varied arenas. Historically, India has had more imports than exports, resulting in a negative balance of payment. Due to this, India has attempted to curb its exports while at the same time tried to boost its domestic industry through varied measures. However, since GATT and WTO, India and other nations have been under pressure to ensure a level playing for domestic and foreign industries. Hence, India cannot openly discriminate against foreign companies. In a different manifestation, the Green Revolution was a measure undertaken to ensure India’s self-sufficiency in foodgrains which are required to feed its population. The recent Make in India campaign is also a re-imagined modified version of the swadeshi movement.

While the swadeshi movement occurred in the backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle, the modern day swadeshi is strictly about economics. Nations are attempting to revive local industries and industrial sectors for various reasons such as to increase employment, reduce imports, increase exports, attract investment by industries, boost economic growth etc. India is attempting to boost its manufacturing sector for these very reasons. However, nations today also welcome FDI and investments from foreign companies. While foreign goods may be unwelcome, foreign technology, machinery and funds are much-needed and welcomed. In this sense, the concept of Swadeshi has evolved to suit today’s times.

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