VK Saxena: “The PM is a Khadi visionary, we have no political agenda”

VK Saxena: “The PM is a Khadi visionary, we have no political agenda”

The 60-year-old chairperson of Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC), VK Saxena, born and raised in Etah, UP, is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered gentleman. His shirts and trousers look is always complimented by a colourful “Modi jacket”. Saxena, by his own admission, is obsessively focused on reconstructing the image and reach of Khadi. He works 24×7, and will live the Khadi story even after he retires, he says. Credited with revising the working conditions and wages of Khadi spinners three times in two years since his appointment in late 2015; he rebranded Khadi Gramudyog as Khadi India and has pushed the commercial turnaround of Khadi. In a candid interview, he talks of Khadi’s regenerative potential, defends the use of the PM’s words and images for promotions, and explains why KVIC has a legal case against Fabindia.


V K Saxena

In the last two and half years, a number of transformative tracks have opened up the business and image of Khadi. What would you rate as your biggest achievement?
I don’t want to sound sectoral or recognise anything as my biggest achievement as our main concern is the welfare and socio-economic development of the artisans who sustain the pyramid of Khadi and Village Industries. Getting them better and wider opportunities for income and employment is the primary goal. I keep that in mind while strengthening the Khadi brand as well as diversifying our business avenues. In the past two and a half years, it has been possible to increase wages of artisans twice, that is from Rs 4 per hank to Rs 5.50 per hank in July 2016, and from Rs 5.50 per hank to Rs 7.00 per hanks in February 2017. The rest of our accomplishments contribute to this basal strengthening.

Don’t you think that the wages of Khadi spinners are still too low given the kind of skill and labour that goes into the work?
Yes, artisanal wages have been neglected for too long, and even the current wages at a slightly risen level are still too low. I am bringing in top-of-the-market designers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and, producers to add value to the brand so that we could build a cascading effect of the benefits to the artisans in a sustained manner. For supporting the artisans ambidextrously, KVIC has decided to pay 5 percent of the profit from all its corporate supplies, directly to the account of the artisans. We don’t want to keep them marginal. The development of the Khadi brand is synonymous with the quality of life of the artisans. Along with the wage hikes, I have tried to expand the demand in the market, subsequently giving cumulative benefits. We are working on introducing an entrepreneurship model at the artisanal base level so that they eventually gain a definitive stake in the profits along with the earning of wages.

The maximum quantity of Khadi is spun on mechanised Ambar Charkhas with modernisation is the new story. Why then have new model charkhas not replaced the wooden Charkha in Khadi imagery?
Well, the traditional Charkha is the fundamental heritage unit, and even if you improvise or modernise it, it still is the sub-set of Charkha. It is like the wheel. Whether you have automobile tyres or aviation tyres, they are essentially wheels and their primary function is to spin. Innovations come and go and may change technological aspects, but the Charkha will remain a constant symbol as it is of fundamental heritage value to self-reliance. It is an immortal brand of National pride. I don’t think the nation wants it to change.

Almost every press release issued by KVIC extolls the contribution of the current government and is sprinkled with the PM’s name and photographs. Has KVIC become a mouthpiece to talk about Khadi as the BJP government’s achievement?
If you look at it carefully, the present Prime Minister is the only one among all the Prime Ministers of Independent India who has constantly spoken about Khadi and promoted it consciously in a regular, consistent, and sustained manner. He has spoken about it from the Red Fort, the Parliament, in his national addresses, in his radio talk show Mann ki Baat, from the foreign soil, in his interactions with the public. He has this vision that Khadi is a very strong element for the sustainable development of rural communities. And KVIC reflects these well-founded aspirations and tries to communicate it in public. When the PM promotes a brand linked to artisans, rural development, national heritage, and self-reliance, we cannot ignore that striking wealth of symbolism.

From South Africa to Karnataka, Kashmir to fashion shows in Delhi—KVIC is trying to stretch itself everywhere. How important is fashion in this roll-out?
Khadi transcends time and lends itself to fashion and contemporaneousness. All that we are doing has spread its reach on both national and international platforms. Actually, it is its immense virtue and internal strength that is taking us everywhere. I have been noticing that everyone wants to identify and associate themselves with Khadi, whether it is young people who wear it or those who want to design. The Acting Ambassador of USA, Mary Kay Carlson, voluntarily walked into our outlet wearing a Khadi saree on Republic Day. A Khadi fashion show was organised in the Australian and Indonesian Embassies recently in Delhi. The Ambassador of Montenegro has voluntarily proposed to celebrate their National Day on 13th July with a Khadi theme. Not only that, if the fashion show by visually challenged children in Bhopal and Khadi ramp walk by tribal girls in Omkareshwar village under Narmada Valley are any indications, Khadi has USP everywhere.

By itself, and before the FDCI collaboration for a recent show, Khadi India has been unable to work with India’s most respected Khadi interventionists like Neeru Kumar, Abraham & Thakore, Rajesh Pratap Singh among others.
You are speaking too early. Many of the land’s designers are getting associated with KVIC. I am sure the names you mention will also be associated with us in due process. Designers who matter will all eventually associate with a fabric that matters a lot to the country.

KVIC has accused Fabindia of allegedly selling fake Khadi without KVIC’s clearance and tag. Where do this conflict and legal situation stand currently?
We found Fabindia undermining the dignity of the heritage of Khadi by adopting unfair trade practices. We have pursued a legal path to resolve this. We will let you know the progress of the case as it happens.