GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com                                    

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

Scindia Steam Navigation and Mahatma Gandhi

 

I shall read the Note as soon as I have energy enough for taking up my normal activities. For the time being what I have of it I devote to only those matters on which I must express an Christ cannot be different. The words and the forms can differ, but the living essence is the same. And there is nobody in this world today whose words and deeds could better express this truth than yours. In you I see the personification fo all truth which was ever given to mankind.” S.N. 8303 opinion without delay. I hope you have received my letter1 posted at Poona. At present I am in Mr. Narottam’s bungalow near Andheri. It is delightfully situated, faces the sea, and the waves wash its boundary. Narottam Morarji, Agent of Scindia Steam Navigation Company. 1 Very well done, indeed! May you live long, may your virtues grow from day to day, may you always do good deeds, and may you render ever greater service to the country. Shantikumar Narottam Morarji, a Gujarati businessman of Bombay connected with the Scindia Steam Navigation Company 2

The ceremony performed by Sjt. Vithalbhai Patel at the launching of Jalabala, the Scindia Steam Navigation Company’s new ship, does not evoke any feeling of national pride or rejoicing. It only serves as a reminder of our fallen state. What is the addition of one little ship to our microscopic fleet? The sadness of the reminder is heightened by the fact that our mercantile fleet may at any moment be turned into a fleet warring against our own liberty or against that of nations with which India has no quarrel and with whose aspirations India may even have every sympathy, as for instance, China. There is nothing to prevent the Government from commandeering any one of the ships belonging to the swadeshi companies for carrying soldiers to punish China for daring to fight for liberty. There is no wonder, therefore, that Vithalbhai Patel, who in spite of his being the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly cannot cease to be an ardent nationalist, recalled the history of the calculated destruction of India’s mercantile marine. He pointed out to his audience that “there was a time when first-rate vessels built, owned, manned and managed by Indians used to carry the rich products of India to distant lands.” “A combination of circumstances,” which the speaker did not think it worth while to mention, “made it extremely difficult for Indians to pursue it, killed that industry outright, and subsequently made it extremely difficult for Indians to revive their past glory.” Sjt. Vithalbhai went on : “It is again interesting to note that shipping companies were started during the last 50 years in India, but they were all wiped out of existence by the rate war and other methods, about which the less said the better.” But even as a patient derives comfort, if anything gives him a little hope and a little energy, and the whole family joins him rejoicing over the acquisition of slight unexpected strength, so did Vithalbhai Patel derive joy and hope from the launching of this new enterprise of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company. Let us hope that Jalabala will be a precursor of many other steamers and that in the near future it would be possible to revive the old ship-building trade of India, and for some patriot to perform the ceremony of launching an India-built ship on Indian waters free of the fear of its being used for warring against ourselves or any other nation and free from the greed of exploitation of any other country. 3

Gandhiji has your letter of the 8th instant. The contents surprised him, inasmuch as an educated man like you does not understand the reason why the price of khadi has slightly gone up. It has been increased in order to enable the poor spinner to have something like a living wage. We are far yet from giving him a real living wage, but the recent increase in khadi prices ensures him a wage just enough to secure him two full meals a day. Do you, poor as you are, grudge the little increase to the men and women who are much poorer than you?  The addressee, a clerk of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, had written to Gandhiji protesting against the increase in the price of khadi. In reply Mahadev Desai wrote to him. 4

Three representatives of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company had an interview with Gandhiji at Segaon.... They seemed to be worried by the following among a number of things:

(1) The discrimination clauses. They cited from Gandhiji’s article in Young India entitled “The Giant and the Dwarf” the following statements: “To talk of no discrimination between Indian interests and English or European is to perpetuate Indian helotage. What is equality of rights between a giant and a dwarf? . . .” And again: “In almost every walk of life the Englishman by reason of his belonging to the ruling class occupies a privileged position.... The cottage industries of India had to perish in order that Lancashire might flourish. The Indian shipping had to perish, so that British shipping might flourish.” Is the shipping not to revive and rise to its full height in a free India?

(2) What are Indian or swadeshi companies? It has become a fashion nowadays to bamboozle the unwary public by adding “(India) Limited” to full-blooded British concerns. Lever Brothers “(India) Limited” have their factories here now. They claim to produce swadeshi soap, and have already ruined several large and small soap factories in Bengal. Then there is the Imperial Chemicals (India) Ltd. which has received valuable concessions. This is dumping foreign industries instead of foreign goods on us!

(3) Then there are companies with Indian Directorate with British Managing Agents who direct the Directorate. Would you call a company with a large percentage of Indian capital and a large number of Indian Directors on the Board, but with a non-Indian Managing Director or non-lndian firm as Managing Agents, a swadeshi concern? Gandhiji dealt with these points fairly exhaustively in his reply which may be summarized below in his own words:

(1) On this point I am glad you have reminded me of my article written in 1931. I still hold the same views, and have no doubt that a free India will have the right to discriminate—if that word must be used—against foreign interests, wherever Indian interests need it.

(2) As regards the definition of a swadeshi company I would say that only those concerns can be regarded as swadeshi whose control, direction and management either by a Managing Director or by Managing Agents are in Indian hands.

I should have no objection to the use of foreign capital, or to the employment of foreign talent, when such are not available in India, or when we need them, but only on condition that such capital and such talents are exclusively under the control, direction and management of Indians and are used in the interests of India. But the use of foreign capital or talent is one thing, and the dumping of foreign industrial concerns is totally another thing. The concerns you have named cannot in the remotest sense of the term be called swadeshi. Rather than countenance these ventures, I would prefer the development of the industries in question to be delayed by a few years in order to permit national capital and enterprise to grow up and build such industries in future under the actual control, direction and management of Indians themselves. (3) Answer to this is contained in my answer on the second point. 5

I am in receipt of your letter. As Rajendra Babu is going [to Vishakhapatnam] there should be no necessity of a message from me. In view, however, of my old association with the late Sheth Narottam3, I can quite understand that you would expect my blessings on this occasion. May your enterprise succeed and may it benefit the whole country. Chairman, Board of Directors, Scindia Steam Navigation Company. 6

 

 

References:

 

  1. Letter to H. S. L. Polak, March 15, 1924
  2. Nore to Shanti Kumar Morarji, Before May 28, 1924
  3. Young India, 4-8-1927  
  4. The Hindu, 20-4-1936
  5. Harijan, 26-3-1938
  6. Letter to Walchand Hirachand, June 13, 1941

 

 

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