THE PASSING away of Shri Dattopant Thengadi is an irreparable loss to the trade union movement. He was the founder of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and with his devotion and honesty of purpose built it into a powerful force. In 1989, BMS was declared by the labour Ministry as the number one trade union of the country. Credit must be given to Shri Thengadi that he established for the BMS a position which surprised the Congress and the left trade unions. BMS had a membership of 31.2 lakhs, leaving INTUC behind at 27.1 lakhs and CITU at 18.0 lakhs, Hind Mazdoor Sabha at 14.8 lakhs and AITUC at only 9.2 lakhs on 3PlDecember 1989. This unrivalled position of the BMS emanated from their genuine struggle for workers’ demands and redressal of grievances. A unique feature of BMS under the leadership of Shri Thengadi was that the organization refused to accept any help from International Labour Organisation even to promote a project for the study of labour problems. Thengadi ji believed that accepting aid from international bodies or industry organizations would weaken the BMS strength to further wage a fight for the labour.
I had the privilege of spending two days with Shri Thengadi at Pune where I had gone on the invitation of BMS to lecture on New Economic Reforms and their impact on labour. Thengadi ji presided over the event and one could observe the free and frank exchange of views. How inspiring was it to listen to the great leader how he felt about the adverse impact of economic reforms on labour. Not only that he was totally opposed to the disinvestments of profit making public sector enterprises and frankly and unhesitatingly criticized the then BJP-led NDA government not to push forward the process of disinvestment. In that sense, his views were more akin to the leftist organisations of the country. He was, therefore, leading the movement for “economic independence” and advised the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch to raise its voice against state policies so that the sovereignty of the country could be preserved.