NANAJI DESHMUKH needs no introduction. His sharp intellect and extraordinary organising skill puts an indelible mark in Indian politics. Born on October 11, 1916 in a modest Maharashtrian family at Kadoli, a small town in Parbhani district, Nanaji had little money to pay for his tuition fees and books. But he had such a burning zeal and desire for education and knowledge that he did not shy away from working as a vendor and selling vegetables to raise money for realising his objectives.
Nanaji was deeply inspired by Lokamanya Tilak and his nationalist ideology. He showed keen interest in social service and activities. His family was in close contact with Dr Hedgewar who was a regular visitor to the family of Nanaji. He could discern an immense hidden potential in Nanaji and encouraged him to attend RSS shakha. In 1940, after the death of Dr Hedgewar, many youngsters inspired by him joined the RSS in Maharashtra.
Nanaji was among those enthused youths who joined the RSS devoting their whole life in service to the nation. He was sent to Uttar Pradesh as a Pracharak. At Agra he met Deendayalji for the first time. Later, he went to Gorakhpur as a Pracharak where he took great pains to introduce Sangh in eastern UP. It was not an easy task at that time as the Sangh had no funds to meet even day-to-day expenses. He had to stay in a Dharmashala but had to keep on changing Dharmashalas as no one was allowed to stay there for more than three days consecutively. Ultimately, he was given shelter by Baba Raghavdas on the condition that he would also cook meals for him. Within three years, his hard work bore fruits and almost 250 Sangh shakhas cropped up in and around Gorakhpur.
Nanaji always laid great emphasis on education. He established India’s first Saraswati Shishu Mandir at Gorakhpur in 1950. It reflects Nanaji’s love for education and knowledge. When in 1947 the RSS decided to launch two journals Rashtradharma and Panchjanya and a newspaper called Swadesh Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee was assigned the responsibility of the editor and Shri Deendayalji was made the Margdarshak with Nanaji as the Managing Director. It was a challenging task as the organisation was hard up for money to bring out the publications, yet it did never dampen their spirits and these publications gained popularity and recognition. Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination led to imposition of ban on the RSS and publication work came to a grinding halt. A different strategy was adopted keeping the ban in mind and Nanaji was the brain behind underground publication work by the RSS those days.
When the ban was lifted and it was decided to have a political organisation, Jan Sangh came into being. Nanaji was asked by Shri Guruji to take charge of Bharatiya Jan Sangh in Uttar Pradesh as party secretary. Nanaji had worked as RSS pracharak in Uttar Pradesh and his groundwork proved a great help in organising BJS at the grass roots. By 1957, BJS had established its units at each and every district in Uttar Pradesh and credit for this goes to Nanaji who had extensively travelled all over the State. Soon, BJS became a force to reckon with in Uttar Pradesh. In 1967, BJS became a part of the United Legislature Party Government headed by Chaudhary Charan Singh. Nanaji played a crucial role in evolving the alliance as he enjoyed good relations with Charan Singh and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. He was successful in bringing leaders of different political backgrounds on one platform to give Uttar Pradesh its first non-Congress government.
Nanaji actively participated in Bhoodan Movement started by Vinoba Bhave. By spending two months with Vinoba Bhave he was inspired by the success and appeal of the movement. When Jai Prakash Narayan gave the call for “Total Revolution” he responded by giving full support to this movement.
When the Janata Party was formed Nanaji was one of its main architects. Janata Party stormed into power by sweeping off the Congress and Nanaji was elected from Balrampur parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh. When he was offered ministerial berth by the then Prime Minister Shri Morarjee Desai he politely refused it. For him politics was never a career but a mission. He was not the person who would stick to politics or office come what may. Of his own volition he announced his retirement from politics in presence of Jai Paraksh Narain and since then never looked back.
Nanaji then devoted his entire time to Deendayal Research Institute that he himself established way back in 1969. He established Chitarkoot Gramodya Vishwavidyalaya in Chitrakoot, India’s first rural university and was its first Chancellor. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in the year 1999 as recognition to his services to the nation.
After formation of DRI Nanaji zeroed in on a cluster of some 500 villages and helped create an alternative model of industrialisation and development. Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was deeply impressed by the concept of conflict-free society during his visit to Chitrakoot. He mentioned this model in his speech delivered in Chennai in September 2006. Nanaji was awarded the Doctor of Letters by Pune, Ajmer, Kanpur and Bundelkahnd Universities. Former President of India Shri KR Narayanan bestowed him with Padma Vibhushan. He was honoured with the National Citizen Award in 2001 by Justice PN Bhagwati. He was also honoured with many other awards.