In September 1931, Mohandas Gandhi traveled to Lancashire, heart of the English textile industry, while his boycott of English cotton goods was at its height. Photographs of Gandhi surrounded by smiling mill workers appear in biographies of Gandhi, but historians have rarely given this visit any critical attention. In this paper, I examine the language used prior to the visit by Gandhi and by trade unionists and mill owners to express their expectations for the visit. Although both sides used similar language about friendly discussion and dialogue prior to the visit, their agendas for the visit were vastly different. The textile workers and mill owners expected that the discussion would focus on Lancashire’s poverty and would induce Gandhi to end the boycott. Gandhi saw the visit to Lancashire as part of a larger mission to explain the Indian National Congress’ cause to British citizens in the hopes of gaining electoral support for Indian independence. These divergent goals stemmed from distinct historical and cultural contexts. The expectations of representatives of the textile industry stemmed from a commitment to nineteenth-century patterns of production and trade. Gandhi’s hopes for the visit originated in a desire to transform the political and economic connection between England and India by fostering the swadeshi, or self-sufficiency movement, in India. The difference between Gandhi’s expectations for the visit and those of trade unionists is a striking example of how disenfranchised groups within the empire, though ostensibly trying to collaborate with each other, could be too locked within their own cultural context to communicate. This short visit, which participants deemed historically unimportant the minute it was over, is useful in shedding light on issues important both to historians of empire and historians of British labor.
Spector-Marks, Irina, "Mr. Gandhi Visits Lancashire: A Study in Imperial Miscommunication" (2008). History Honors Projects. 3.
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