From being credited with successfully persuading the RSS to replace leather belts with canvas belts to extracting a promise from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan not to open new liquor shops in Madhya Pradesh, Jain monk Tarun Sagar is known to have demonstrated his influence long before his address to the Haryana lawmakers last week created waves.
Cracking jokes, sharing anecdotes and abandoning caution, the monk, 49, born Pawan Kumar Jain in Guhanchi village of Damoh district in Madhya Pradesh, delivers sermons in a style that is very different from the restrained speeches of most other Jain monks who usually stick to religious tenets.
He was bestowed the title krantikari (revolutionary) a few years ago at a religious gathering in Karnataka, one of the few states where he has been declared a state guest. He was given muni diksha by Acharya Pushpadant Sagar in the late 1980s.
After a reported ailment a decade ago, Tarun Sagar started travelling about in a doli. This upset a certain section of the community. The idea of being carried this way, or in vehicles, is a break from the tradition of the Digambar Jain community, which believes saints must live a life of self-abnegation.
Tarun Sagar, who has possibly more followers among Hindus than within his minority community, also accepts food from politicians, especially chief ministers and governors, irrespective of their religion. Other Jain monks, including those senior in him in hierarchy, usually accept food only from Jains.
Tarun Sagar, who attended an RSS Vijaya Dashami function in Nagpur in September 2009, suggested there that doing away with leather belts would help stop animal slaughter. It is widely believed that this appeal led to the removal of leather belts from the RSS uniform.
At a function on June 4, 2010, at Guhanchi village, his home, the muni referred to the BJP government’s gesture of declaring him a state guest and told CM Chouhan, “I would feel honoured only if slaughterhouses are denied permission and the sale of liquor is totally stopped in the state.” Chouhan then announced that he would not let any new liquor shop come up in MP but kept mum on the suggestion on slaughterhouses.
While inaugurating the foundation day celebrations of the RSS in Jaipur in October 2013, he praised Narendra Modi for a “charismatic personality” and Chouhan’s “magical leadership skills.”
Before the Haryana address, the muni had addressed lawmakers in Bhopal in 2010 in the auditorium of the assembly, a venue that later saw speeches from Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Acharya Vidya Sagar Maharaj, the most influential Digambar Jain, had also addressed lawmakers on the MP assembly premises.
In 2010, Tarun Sagar was slated to eat food offered by Chouhan at the CM House, with posters announcing he would leave Bhopal that very day. However, a cousin’s death forced Chouhan to cancel the event. He suggested a day after the 13-day mourning period was over.
“Tarun Sagar chose to prolong his stay in Bhopal. He left only after eating food in the CM House. Posters announcing his departure had to be removed from Jain temples,” a Jain leader said.
Pankaj Pradhan, who calls himself one of the main followers of the muni in Bhopal, sees nothing wrong with Tarun Sagar’s speeches. “His following cuts across religious sects because he speaks the language the common man understands,” Pradhan said.
Pradhan said a set of eight books titled Kadve Vachan, written by the muni, has sold more than 10 lakh copies. Pradhan said Tarun Sagar is watched and heard by millions on religious channels.
An office-bearer of Tarun Kranti Manch, Pradhan has been associated with Tarun Sagar since 1993. He recalls that a function with the muni that was to be held on the premises of Gujarat assembly more than a decade ago was cancelled after objections raised by Congress legislators. Modi, then CM, met Tarun Sagar where he was camping, Pradhan said.