Late Dattopant Thengdi was the founder of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. He is one of the foremost thinkers of Swadeshi economics, born in Arvi village of Wardha district of Maharashtra. After completing his BA and LLB, he became a pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1942. Thengadiji was associated with forming several organizations inspired by the Sangh, such as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Jana Sangh, Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat etc. The kind of impact he left on India’s social and economic life was unparalleled and would prove to be a guide for generations to come. He has been one of the prominent advocates of the distinguishing qualities of his lifestyle: simple living, intense study, deep thinking, clarity of thoughts, courage with conviction and constant zeal for the country’s sustainable growth. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, but he refused to accept it. He was greatly influenced by Dr Keshav Hedgewar and Shri Madhavrao Golwalkar Guruji. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay are some of the other significant figures of that time who influenced his personality. He kept pace with the times by establishing various organizations in different fields and maintained the core philosophy of Hindutva and Bharatiya Philosophy.
An eloquent speaker and expert in social, economic and political issues, his effortless yet poignant presentation of issues always enthralled the audience. Disillusioned with both western models of development, namely capitalism and socialism, propounded a ‘Third Way’ of socio-economic development based on the ideology of ‘Sanatan Dharma’. He wrote several books that grew not only from his ideological belief but also from his experience. Some of his widely read and referenced works are: The Third Way, modernization without westernization, and What sustains the Sangh? The Narendra Modi government has chosen the ‘Swadeshi’ route with its self-reliant India program to revive the Indian economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic. But the guiding philosophy behind this approach was shaped decades ago by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh stalwart Shri Dattopant Thengadi. He never transformed himself into an urbanist, as did many trade unions of his time; he Never insisted on a village versus city approach. One of his close associates in the 90s and early 21st century, S Gurumurthy, pointed out that he never believed in the distinction between rich and poor classes but worked for the collective national interest. His idea of convergence of classes, not the struggle of classes, came from Hindutva and national interest, not Marxism, which is based on the continuous effort of types. In today’s world, the core of PM Modi’s big political slogan, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,’ comes from this philosophy.
Deendayal Upadhyay’s idea of holistic humanism was for society. Dattopantji accepted Deendayalji’s idea to clarify economic philosophy – as Marx did for communism or Adam Smith for capitalism. The Modi government’s idea of providing universal healthcare, access to energy, and eradicating poverty (based on empowerment) is rooted in Thengdiji’s ideas. His views also draw close to the Modi government’s disinvestment approach: most PSUs are listed on the stock market rather than strategically sold to corporate houses. His work, along with the framework (Integral Humanism and Antyodaya) devised by Upadhyayji, underscores the economic philosophy of the RSS and its allies. It is different from the capitalism of the Western world and the communism of China and Russia. Thengdiji called this the ‘Third Way. In one of his lectures in Bangalore, he claimed that we should not blindly imitate the West. He declared that westernization is not modernization. “We don’t think modernization is westernization: due to over a century of brain wash through the Macaulay system of English education, most Indians have a habit of assuming that anything from the West is always best. To be modern, our lifestyle and thought style should be essentially western. However, it is only a mental blockade. We should come out of this as soon as possible and be ready to think free from western prejudices. We must accept that modernization is not westernization and westernization is not modernization. A great scholar, organizer, leader, and activist, Thengdiji followed a path no one had taken before him. Over the years, he became a great source of inspiration for lakhs of workers striving for the welfare of workers and farmers.