'A Conspicuous Model of Peace'
SUJATHA PATEL.The Making of Industrial Relations: The Ahmedabad Textile Industry 1918-1939, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987.
Sujata Patel's is a straightforward book. She begins with a sociologist's concern to explain why industrial relations in Ahmedabad in recent years have been a 'conspicuous model of peace* (p.l) and moves on to a historian's concern with how all this came about. Patel's is a fascinating subject, largely because it was Gandhi's intervention that made possible a certain kind of capital-labour relationship in Ahmedabad. Gandhi's relation with his peasant followers has been the subject of many interesting monographs and essays in recent Indian history writing; but Gandhi's relation with the industrial working class has not been probed so far.
Two main strands are explored in the book: the history of the cotton mill industry in Ahmedabad and the parallel growth of the labour movement. In the beginning an attempt is made to trace the history of Ahmedabad as a city with long traditions as a manufacturing centre of textile products. The institutions of the 'mahajan' and 'pancH—guilds of the merchants and artisans—as well as that of the 'nagarseth' are outlined. Patel believes that the tradition of the 'nagarseth' as an arbitrator was carried over to the modem industrial setting in Ahmedabad and helped to solve conflicts between labour and capital. The traditional merchant elite of Ahmedabad took the initiative for starting the modem cotton mill industry during British rule. Patel suggests (p. 20) that the rise of modern industry destroyed traditional handicrafts. She also seems to suggest (p.27) that the ruined artisans were the new recruits in this modem industry. Although she is hesitant to draw this conclusion, her evidence is certainly a useful corrective to the nationalist critique which held the British solely responsible for 'deindus-trialisation'. However Patel tells us nothing about what the workers felt about abandoning their time-honoured professions to enter a factory. She complains of lack of evidence before 1918—a problem which bedevils all researchers on labour in India. It is surprising that she has not used the Indian Industrial Commission's (1916-1918) evidence volumes and the special report that A.E. Mirams submitted on 'Industrial Employees' to the Commission, which has some interesting material on Ahmedabad.
The history of the Ahmedabad textile industry has been studied in detail by Patel. The cotton mills were wholly owned by Indians and over the years it developed as a significant rival to Lancashire. Patel shows convincingly how the imposition of excise duty and the Lancashire pressure pushed the AMA (Ahmedabad Millowners' Association) towards nationalism and support of Gandhi. Less convincing however is her history of the labour movement spearheaded by the TLA (Textile Labour Association), founded in 1920 by Gandhi after his famous intervention in 1918 in favour of the mill workers. In Gandhi's