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Dattopant Thengadi: RSS pracharak who challenged economic philosophy of Vajpayee regime

Anilesh S Mahajan     October 14, 2018

Circa April 2001, at Delhi's Ramleela Ground in a massive rally, an old man in his early 70s challenged the free market approach of the then NDA regime led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh's pracharak, Dattopant Thengadi, in this rally organised by RSS affiliate-Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, or BMS, directly took on the then Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, calling his acts of opening up various sectors to foreign direct investment, or FDI, a criminal act. Sinha went to PM Vajpayee to offer his resignation. Vajpayee might have saved the day for him but Thengadi didn't relent and kept on exerting pressure. Sinha was eventually removed from the Finance Ministry a year later. Sinha, along with then Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie, was in Thengadi's hit list for pushing strategic sales in PSU disinvestments rather than listing them at the stock market. October 14 is Thengadi's 14th death anniversary. He died via mahanirvana, a few months after Vajpayee lost the General Elections of 2014. On November 10 this year, at his 99th birthday, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is expected to give a special lecture at Delhi's Ambedkar Bhawan.

Now, NDA is about to finish the tenure of the second round of power, this time with Narendra Modi as prime minister with BJP in full majority. And ideas of Thengadi are more acceptable in this regime than during Vajpayee's time. Even if it isn't, the RSS affiliates find it hard to match his spunk and credibility to challenge it and take it to a logical conclusion.

Modi government's idea of providing universal healthcare, energy access to all, poverty elevation plans (based on empowerment, not entitlements) all find their roots in Thengadi's ideas. His ideas also come closer to Modi government's method of disinvestments: where most of the PSUs are listed in the stock market rather than strategically sold to corporate houses. When PM Modi's regime tried to sell equities in Air India via strategic sale, it hit a dead-end after the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat himself stepped in to oppose it. Other than this, Modi regime has not given much heed to RSS, its affiliates and their thoughts on FDI, Chinese investments and improvement in the labour environment. BKS and government are on the same page on various agriculture reforms, but even when bureaucracy is slow in implementing them, the protests are limited. These affiliates believe that this time the communication with government is better and the political leadership adheres to their differences.

Thengadi was not opposed to private investments but pushed for a larger role of MSMEs. He opposed vehement tendencies of developing cronies as well as government getting into businesses. He took on Vajpayee's push for FDI in retail, media, insurance and other vital sectors along with the way disinvestment was pushed in public sector enterprises.

Thengadi and Vajpayee were contemporaries. Both joined RSS at a young age, just before the country got independence. Vajpayee -another pracharak - spent his days in building up political force in Bharatiya Jana Sangh and later Bharatiya Janata Party. Thengadi stayed in active politics and was a member of Rajya Sabha for two tenures from 1964 to 1976. During the Emergency, post arrests of RSS stalwarts and secretaries of Struggle Committee against Emergency Nanaji Deshmukh and Ravindra Verma, Thengadi took up the challenge of stitching together Janta Party. But he is credited largely as founding father of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Bharatiya Kissan Sangh (BKS), Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and founding member of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, Grahak Panchayat and Bharatiya Vichara Kendra. Today all these outfits not only create cadre for BJP but also mobilise policy implementation. His stature in RSS is the same that Karl Marx has amongst communists.

In fact, Thengadi created BMS and BKS in the mid-50s when these movements were captured by Marxists in India. The most famous slogan among the labourers and peasants was "Lal Kile pe Lal Nishan, maang raha hai Hindustan" (translation from colloquial Hindi means 'India wants to see the red sign at Red Fort'). This was the time when Naxalism was also finding its roots among these two segments. He brought in the concept of class coordination and cooperation nullifying the Marxist idea of class struggle. Thengadi's philosophy pushed that the fight is against injustice and not against any class. He brought RSS's core idea of nationalism among workers and farmers. Today, both BMS and BKS are amongst the largest unions of workers and farmers, respectively across the globe. His work along with the framework (Integral Humanism & Antodayay) drafted by Deendayal Upadhyay underlines the economic philosophy of RSS and its affiliates. This is precisely different from the capitalism of the western world and the communism of China and Russia. Thengadi called it the Third Way.

In Vajpayee's time, it was for the first time RSS affiliates tasted power and wanted to implement their vision. This was thwarted by Vajpayee, who was running the government with allies from socialist as well as anti-RSS philosophies. This created rifts. Thengadi-led RSS affiliates were taking on Vajpayee's reforms and echoed resentment shown by other pracharaks like Acharaya Giriraj Kishore in Vishwa Hindu Parishad, KN Govindacharya, who was an RSS appointee in the party as General Secretary, and eventually the then RSS chief KS Sudarshan.

The good thing about Thengadi's ideas was that he allowed them to evolve with time and global changes. Let us hope RSS affiliates continue to recognise this fine trait and not stay fixed on dotted lines.

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