A great scholar, organiser and a greater leader and activist, Thengadi walked the path that none before him had taken and became a huge source of inspiration for millions of activists striving for the welfare of workers and peasants.
Dattatraya Bapurao alias Dattopant Thengadi was a towering intellectual, an eloquent organiser, Philosopher, voracious reader, an original thinker, an excellent communicator and an example of RSS vision. He was born on November 10, 1920, at Arvi in Maharashtra's Wardha district. At the age of 15, he served as president of the 'Vanar Sena' and the Municipal High School student union at Arvi. He participated in India's Freedom Movement and was a Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) member from 1936 to 38. He was profoundly influenced by Sh. Madhavrao Sadashivrao Golwalkar, popularly known as Guruji, Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya and Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Thengadi joined RSS as pracharak in 1942 and travelled the length and breadth of the country in his capacity as RSS Pracharak and later the world as a pioneer of the trade union movement. He worked as RSS Pracharak in Kerala between 1942-44, Bengal in 1945-47 and Assam in 1948-49.
In the 1950s, one-third of the world was besotted with communist ideology. The famous slogan in India then was Lal kile pe lal nishan, maang raha hai Hindustan (India wants to see the red sign at Red Fort). The Left ideology dominated the labour movement in India at that time. At this juncture, Dattopant Thengadi successfully made inroads into worker and peasant movements in India and established the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) in 1955. Today, BMS is a leading workers' organisation globally and represents the country at bodies like the International Labour Organization.
With the consent of Guru Golwalkar, Thengadi had been organising workers since 1949. He applied Deendayal Upadhyay's philosophy of integral humanism to the cause of workers and peasants and replaced the idea of class struggle with class coordination and cooperation. He was the first person in Indian history who established a worker's movement that was not inspired by Marxist ideology or any other political party and factored in the Indian value system. He was of the view that with time and space, ideas and their relevance change. At the first all-India workshop of BMS on October 27 1968, in Maharashtra, he said, "If there exist different societies in different conditions in the same time period, then there could be no one 'ism' for them. Similarly, one idea cannot be considered appropriate for one society over different time periods. Nor a single 'ism' can be a panacea of all ills because time and conditions change, and any ideology or 'ism' takes shape out of the knowledge pool of that time.'
Thengadi was clear that the fight had to be against injustice and not against any class. He gave the call, 'workers, unite the world' in place of 'workers of the world, unite'. Earlier, chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram at rallies and programmes of workers was unheard of. BMS broke this silent taboo and started hoisting a saffron flag and chanting nationalist slogans. Thengadi wanted to free the labour movement from the clutches of the Left that looked to the then USSR and China for inspiration. So he gave the slogan – Lal gulami chhod ker, bolo Vandematram. (Leave Red slavery, chant Vande Matram).
The movement from red flag to saffron had a deep impact and even today, the indigenous labour movement, BMS, use a saffron flag.
The core philosophy of BMS entails nationalisation of workers, industrialisation of nation and labourisation of industries (Shramikon ka Rashtriyakaran, Rashtra ka Audyogikikaran aur Udyogon ka Shramikikaran).
In Moscow, Thengadi floated the idea of an apolitical labour confederation at an international meeting of the World Federation of Trade Unions. This forum was supported by Leftists, and his resolution was rejected. He, along with others, floated a new labour federation at the intentional level and named it 'General Confederation of World Trade Unions' and provided it with a white-coloured flag in the place of the trademark red one.
In 1985, for the first time, a nationalist labour organisation was invited by the Communist Party of China, and a BMS delegation participated under the leadership of Thengadi. Every year now, a BMS delegation takes part in the labour conference in China.
After membership verification in 1989, the Labour Ministry of the government of India declared BMS as the largest labour organisation in the country.
Thengadi founded, mentored and nurtured many well-known organisations of today like Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (1955), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh(1979), Swadeshi Jagran Manch (1991), Samajik Samarasata Manch, Sarva- panth Samadar Manch and Paryavaran Manch; also a founder member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat and Bharatiya Vichara Kendra. He was also involved in several other organisations of all hues and nature like the Jan Sangh, Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad (lawyers council), Sanskar Bharti and Swadeshi Science Movement. He also worked for Dr Ambedkar and formed Adim Jati Sangh.
He always believed in inclusiveness and refuted the idea of political untouchability. He made roads to many organisations of different ideas spheres, simultaneously maintaining the core philosophy of Hindu Dharma and Bhartiya Darshan. Rarest of rare personality having mastery over dialectical materialism, Dattopant Thengadi was a living embodiment of Anashakta Yoga. He took charge of Loksangharsh Samiti, created by Jaiprakash Narayan in 1975, and launched a movement against the emergency regime of Indira Gandhi until she was defeated in the 1977 general election. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha for two terms during 1964-76. He did not accept any post in the government of Morarji Desai, though on his advice, Jan Sangh was merged in Janta Party. He refused to accept the Padmavibhushan title later on.
Communism was in reverse gear in Russia was his observation in 1968. He opposed speculative trade practices like stock exchange, Derivative trade, currency market, etc., and preferred self-employment against wage employment.
Eloquent in speech and versatile in his writing, Thengadi has some 100 titles to his credit in Marathi, Hindi, and English. Most of his works are mainly focused on the problems of the working class. Some of his popular books are "Karyakarta", "Third Way", "On Revolution" and "Prefaces in Hindu Economics" "Vichar Sutre', 'Sanketrekha', `Ekatma Manav', `Ek Adhyayan', `Pragatipath Kisan', `Dr Ambedkar', `Saptakram' and `Lakshya Aur Karya'.
He was very keen to present Ambedkar in a true light from his personal experience. "Dr Ambedkar" was his last book, which he completed in July 2004 before passing away on October 14 2004, due to a Brain Hemorrhage.