Born in a middle-class family on November 10, 1920 at Aarvi village in Wardha district of Maharashtra, Shri Dattopant Bapurao Thengadi left deep imprints on the national life of Bharat. During his 60 years of active public life, he “built many Himalayas out of zero” in various spheres of national life. Some of them are Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Samarasata Manch, Sarva Panth Samadar Manch, Sanskar Bharati, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, etc. The biggest achievement of Thengadiji is that he created and nurtured an army of dedicated workers who are taking forward his cause and mission with the same spirit today.
A brilliant student since childhood, Thengadiji completed secondary education from his village Aarvi and then went to Nagpur for higher education in 1936, from where he did MA and LLB from Maurice College and Law College respectively. Though he had a law degree, he never practised in any court. He got attracted to public life since the school days because of his extraordinary leadership skills. He became president of Congress’s local Monkey Army in 1934 at the age of 14. In 1935, he was elected president of Nagarpalika Vidyalaya Aarvi Students Union. During college days, he was active in the activities of Hindustan Socialist Republican Army.
While studying in Nagpur Thengadiji came closer to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Impressed with the life and vision of RSS founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar he decided to dedicate his life to the feet of Bharatmata by becoming a Sangh Pracharak in 1942. He was instrumental in starting the Sangh work in Kerala in 1942 and then in Bengal in 1944. While expanding the Sangh work, he studied Indian history, philosophy, politics, sociology, economics, etc, which reflected in his writing on various issues. The special quality of his writing was that he knew how to present even a complicated topic in simple language for the layman. Though Marathi was his mother tongue, he developed good command over Sanskrit, Hindi, Bangla, Malayalam and English. People still wonder how he found time to study and write books, in his life because he wrote over 200 books. Prominent English books authored by him included: Nationalisation or Governmentalisation, Focus on Socio-Economic Problems, Perspective, The Great Sentinel, His Legacy Our Mission, Computerisation, Modernisation without Westernisation, Why Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh?, Consumer: A Sovereign without Sovereignty, Spectrum, Third Way, Our National Renaissance, Namboodiripad’s Anti Communalism X-rayed.
Apart from books, he also wrote the foreword for many books. Some forewords were exceptionally lengthy. The foreword of ‘Rashtra’ written jointly by Shri Bhanu Pratap Shukla and Gaurinath Rastogi was 94 printed pages. The foreword of ‘Hindu Economics’ written by Dr MG Bokare was 42 pages. Similarly, the foreword of ‘Kalpvriksha’ was 21 pages, ‘Pt Deendayal Upadhyaya Vichar Darshan’ 126 pages, ‘India’s Planned Poverty’ 52 pages and ‘Aapatkaleen Sangarsh Gatha’ 40 pages. All these forewords were later compiled in one single 412-page book titled ‘Prastavana’.
The trade union life of Thengadiji began from the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC). He held different responsibilities in INTUC-affiliated labour unions in ten industries from 1949 to 51. He was also elected a member of INTUC’s National General Council. He held the responsibility of organising secretary of INTUC in Madhya Pradesh from 1950 to 51. From 1952 to 55, he was active in Akhil Bharatiya Bank Association. His organisational skills left their imprints in the responsibilities that he held in those labour unions. From 1954 to 55 he was president of Akhil Bharatiya Railway Mail Sewa Karmachari Sangh in Madhya Kshetra, patron of Retired Railwaymen’s Association, member of Indian Academy of Labour Arbitrators and All India Railway Telegraph Staff Council, patron of Loko Mechanical Artisan Staff Association Eastern Railway, member of Bharat Textile Technician Association and patron of Federation of India Pensioners Association. He was organising secretary of Madhya Pradesh Tenants Association from 1954 to 55, member of Dr Ambedkar Birth Anniversary Celebration Committee, Nagpur from 1953 to 56, vice president of Delhi Pradesh SC Rickshaw Pullers Cooperative Transport Committee. He was also associated with many such organisations during that period.
Apart from Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, which was formed on July 23, 1955, Thengadiji formed Bharatiya Kisan Sangh on March 4, 1979, Samajik Samarasata Manch on April 14, 1983 and Swadeshi Jagran Manch on November 22, 1991, Paryavaran Manch in 1991 and Sarvapanth Samadar Manch on March 25, 1992. He not only formed these organisations but also took them to the glorious height in their respective fields. Describing his organisational skills a writer said: “He built many Himalayas out of zero.” Prior to 1955, the labour organisations working in Bharat were either follower of the government or thought only for the benefits of the labour. None thought about the collective interest of the labour, industry and the nation. Communists backed All India Trade Union Congress, formed by Lala Lajpat Rai in 1920, was a strong voice of labourers while the Congress-backed Indian National Trade Union Congress followed only the government line. Socialists-backed Hind Mazdoor Sabha was hijacked by communists. In that scenario, Thengadiji formed the BMS and made it the number one labour organisation of the country in his lifetime. Because of this achievement, even communist countries like China invited him to discuss their labour and economic issues.
Thengadiji was also a founder member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Sanskar Bharati and was closely associated with Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, Bharatiya Vichar Kendram and Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat. What is more interesting is that he was active in politics also. He was organising secretary of Bharatiya Jana Sangh in Madhya Pradesh and Dakshinanchal from 1951 to 53. During the infamous Emergency in 1975, he was secretary of the Lok Sangharsh Samiti which led the public protest against Emergency from 1975 to 1977. Prior to that, he was Rajya Sabha MP from 1964 to 1976. In Rajya Sabha, he was a member of the Presiding Officers panel to chair the proceedings of the House. What needs special emphasis here about Thengadiji is that despite being active in politics, he never allowed politics to dominate the labour cause. Wherever he worked during his life, he gave a new dimension to the organisation or activity. Apart from the organisations mentioned above, he was associated with dozens of other organisations like Bhasha Prachar Samiti Kerala, Shri Maa Birth Centenary Committee, Aurobindo Ashram, Akhil Bharatiya Vimukta Jati Sevak Sangh, Bharatiya Buddha Mahasabha, Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad, Prajna Bharati, Dr Hedgewar Birth Centenary Celebration Committee, Arogya Bharati, Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, Bharatiya Kushtha Nivarak Sangh, Mahrishi Vedvyas Pratishthan, Baba Saheb Ambedkar Birth Centenary Celebration Committee, Panipat Yuddhvir Smriti Samiti, etc. Despite being so popular, he was very simple and down to earth and always stayed away from publicity. Respecting his scholarship and contribution to literature, Saurashtra University honoured him with D.Lit.
His humbleness was marvellous. In 2003 when the then Central Government recommended his name for prestigious Padmabhushan Award, he declined with utmost humility. On January 28, 2003 he wrote a letter to the then President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in this respect. “I am extremely thankful to you for the great honour you have bestowed upon me by awarding ‘Padma Bhushan’. I sincerely doubt whether I deserve it. I have highest regard for you. Not merely because your present position, but because of your personal greatness. Greatness which is unconscious of itself. It will, however, be inappropriate on my part to accept the award, so long as revered Dr. Hedgewar and revered Shri Guruji are not offered the Bharat Ratna”. Thengadiji wrote in the letter.
During his six decades-long public life, he nurtured countless workers who are still leading various organisations in the country. He was a perfect visionary and organiser. He told everybody to be committed to the cause, organisation and the ideology and not to any individual. That is why he never allowed anybody to touch his feet. His dedicated public life attracts everyone who knows about it. The path that he followed was full of obstacles, but he made the path easy for the fellow workers. When he went to Kerala after completing LLB his age was merely 21-22. He was completely unaware of local Malayalam language, dress, meals and traditions of Kerala. Sangh work had not been started there till then. The communists and Congress were very strong and they influenced public life there. He started the Sangh work under those circumstances. When Thengadiji went to Kozhikode he met an advocate who advised him not to waste his time in Kerala, as starting the Sangh work there was not easy. But he was not disappointed. He not only started the Sangh work there but also developed strong base for it. Later the same advocate became his admirer.
After Kerala, Thengadiji expanded the Sangh work in Kolkata from 1945 to 1947 and then in other parts of Bengal and Assam in 1948. On the instruction of Shri Guruji, he joined the activities of Indian National Trade Union Congress. After working there for some time, he formed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh on July 23, 1955. Today, BMS has units in all parts of the country and is the largest certified labour organisation of the country. The impact of BMS in this field can be realised from the fact that the communists who once strongly objected BMS workers to shout the slogan of Bharat Mata ki Jai during a strike in Kanpur and finally pushed the BMS away from the strike, shouted the slogan at Parliament Street in 2008.
During his life, Thengadiji visited many Asian, African and European countries to study or guide the labour organisations there. All-China Federation of Trade Union invited him in 1985 to discuss his ideas on labour issues. His message was aired on ‘Beijing Radio’ on April 28, 1985. He also visited Myanmar, Israel, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritius, South Africa, USSR, Hungary, Yugo Slovakia, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, Canada, USA and Mexico.
Thegadiji was completely fit till the day he breathed his last. At the age of 84, he was staying at the residence of Shri SN Deshpande in Pune on October 14, 2004. “Thengadiji was fully fit until his last breath. He had full control over his body, mind and brain. His memory was also sharp. A few days back he had completed his book on Baba Saheb Ambedkar, which was to be released. Noted writer and thinker Shri CS Bhishikar and former Union HRD Minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi met him a few days back. He had himself invited the workers of Samajik Samarasata Manch on October 15 for a discussion. On October 14, he went to the bathroom to have a bath. After the bath when was wiping his body he suddenly sat down and breathed his last the same moment. He was taken to hospital where the doctors confirmed his ‘nirvana’,” said Shri SN Deshpande, while talking about the last days of this great visionary.
I came closer to Thengadiji in 1984 when I was sent to the BMS in October 1984. I met him at the BMS Abhyas Varg held in Indore. After that, I had long discussions with Thengadiji on some issues. I also travelled with him many times. He had unique style of mingling with the workers. That is why even an ordinary worker could speak to him freely. He motivated Arvind Moghe ji to start BMS work among tribals in Madhya Pradesh. It was totally different from the work normally done by BMS workers—no memorandum, no dharna, no demand for the bonus, salary or dearness allowance because there is no employer. Moghe ji developed entrepreneurship among the tribals through that work—how forest produce can be better marketed, how value addition can be done to their produces, etc. Training was imparted to the tribal youth for all these. Today, more than 20 lakh tribals in Madhya Pradesh alone are associated with the BMS through such activities.
(The writer is North Central Zone Organising Secretary of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh)