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Dattopant Thengadi — activist MP from RSS who shaped ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ idea decades ago

The Narendra Modi government has chosen the ‘Swadeshi’ route with its Atmanirbhar Bharat programme to revive the Indian economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. But the guiding philosophy behind this approach was shaped decades ago by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) stalwart Dattopant Thengadi.

Thengadi, who founded Sangh inspired organisations like Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, has a string ideological influence on the RSS. Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat quoted him in this year’s annual Vijayadashami speech when he spoke about the conceptual framework of the ‘Swadeshi’ economic philosophy.

“Late Shri Dattopant Thengadiji claimed Swadeshi cuts beyond goods and services and stands for attaining a position of international cooperation by achieving national self-reliance, sovereignty and parity,” Bhagwat said at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on 25 October.

“So to achieve financial independence in the future and attain a position of international cooperation, we are open to foreign investors and give relaxations to companies offering newer technologies, provided they engage on our terms and mutually agreeable conditions. But such a decision has to be based on mutual consensus,” he added.

On the occasion of Thengadi’s birth centenary, Bhagwat is set to release a book in Delhi Tuesday. The book titled Dattopant Thengadi: The Activist Parliamentarian seeks to bring to light lesser known facets of the RSS leader who had represented the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in Rajya Sabha for two terms between 1964 and 1976.

Edited by Navin Kalingan and Anirban Ganguly, the book carries all the speeches and interventions Thengadi made during his Parliament tenure, covering a wide variety of areas ranging from economy and finance to agriculture and cow slaughter.

Thengadi and globalisation

In the foreword to the book, Swadeshi Jagran Manch co-convener S. Gurumurthy, who is an independent director on the Reserve Bank of India board, notes that the world is now moving away from the idea of globalisation, as Thengadi had predicted.

“When globalisation challenged India in early nineties and every one helplessly just opposed it or blindly welcomed it, he recalled the spirit of the freedom movement, the Swadeshi idea, to show the way to handle it with an indigenous paradigm… In just under 25 years, as Thengadi had predicted, globalisation is over,” writes Gurumurthy, who had worked with Thengadi in the 1980s and 1990s.

“He waged a war against the WTO. Now the US/West is waging a war against it. It is unfortunate that Thengadi, who had the conviction that the idea of the nation would prevail over the ideology of globalism is not alive today to hear the President of United States which was the principal driver of globalisation in 1990s, speak ‘patriotism, not globalism as the future’.”

He adds: “It is again unfortunate that he is not alive to read the Economist magazine which led the intellectual warhorse of globalisation to write the obituary of globalisation titled ‘Globalisation is dead’.”

Thengadi’s relationship with Ambedkar

Sharing his personal conversations with Thengadi, Gurumurthy writes about the RSS leader’s relationship with Babasaheb Amdebkar.

“Thengadi could talk with authority about Babasaheb Ambedkar because he was a full-time understudy with Ambedkar in the last four years of Babasaheb’s life. What Thengadi told me… was… ‘I was an eyewitness to Babasaheb’s tensions and problems’,” he writes.

According to Gurumuthy, Thengadi recalled that Ambedkar wanted the Hindu saints and religious heads to declare openly that untouchability did not have the sanction of Hindu religious scripts.

“RSS efforts in this direction were not bearing fruit. But Babasaheb told Thengadi that time was running out. His health was deteriorating fast in 1954. Babasaheb told Thengadi that ‘I have faith in the process of the RSS in removing untouchability. But that is too slow. I cannot wait because I will not live to see the end of the problem’,” writes Gurumurthy.

“Thengadi also recalled what made Babasaheb embrace Buddhism, in Babasaheb’s own words thus: ‘If I did not show the way for this helpless community, they would be hunted down by the Christian church and the communists.’ What Babasaheb wanted the Hindu religious leaders to do in 1954, RSS could persuade them to do only a decade later, in 1965, in a conference of Hindu religious leaders in Udupi organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad,” he adds.

“Thengadi’s unique knowledge of Babasaheb made many, including me, insist that Thengadi write on his experiences with Babasaheb. A couple of months before he died Thengadi did that too, and his book on Babasaheb Ambedkar was also released,” writes Gurumurthy.

Life highlights

Thengadi was born on 10 November 1920 in the Arvi village of Wardha district in Maharashtra. He finished his post-graduation from Morris College and LLB from Law College in Nagpur.

In 1940, when M.S. Golwalkar became the second Sarsanghchalak, he gave a clarion call to the youth to become RSS pracharaks (full time worker) to expand the organisation’s work. Responding to the call, Thengadi became an RSS Pracharak in 1942 and remained so until his death at the age of 84 on 14 October 2004. In addition to his well-known organisational roles, he is also remembered by many as the deft organising secretary of Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the Bharatiya Jana Party, for Madhya Pradesh during 1952-1953 and for south India in 1956-57.

Thengadi was associated with the formation of many Sangh inspired organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Jana Sangh, Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat, among others. He wrote several books, one of which served as the blueprint of ‘Swadeshi’ economics — ‘Third Way’.


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