The Jain monk who has advice on trade, insurance and politics

Muni Naypadmasagarji, the monk who made the statements in favour of the BJP, is an influential leader among the Jains.

mumbai Updated: Aug 28, 2017 00:38 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
Mumbai news,column,manoj nair
(HT File)

A Jain monk has been accused of goading residents of the Mumbai suburb of Mira-Bhayandar, when they recently elected a municipal body, to vote for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) if they wanted a ‘meat free’ society. The Shiv Sena, the runners-up in the election, has complained to the Election Commission that the BJP, the party which won, used the Jain monk to get votes from the Jains and vegetarian Hindus.

Politics of meat is not new in Mira-Bhayandar: for the last ten years, the towns have enforced some sorts of ban on meat, seafood and poultry during Paryushan — a period of religious significance for Jains and Hindus. This is despite the fact that the Jains form only an estimated 15% of the towns’ population of nearly a million. The towns have a diverse population that includes Muslims in Mira Road, East Indian Catholics in Bhayander, Uttan and Dongri, apart from Jains and Hindus and meat-eating communities. Groups opposing the ban have said that the ban is unconstitutional.

Muni Naypadmasagarji, the monk who made the statements in favour of the BJP, is an influential leader among the Jains. He does not have a permanent address as he, like other Jain monks, travel from one Jain locality to another, usually on foot. The only time they stay in one place is during the four monsoon months, called chaturmaas, where there is a prohibition against travel. He is currently reported to be staying at a monastery in Bhayandar. Naypadmasagarji is an unusual monk: he has opinions on matters ecclesiastical and profane.

His people feat him as the conceptualiser of the Jain International Trade Organisation (JITO), an association of influential Jain businesses and industrialists. A few years ago, Jains made plans to create ‘The International Settlement Forum (ISF)’ that could serve as an arbitration body to settle disputes. The idea of the arbitration forum, according to its promoters, came from Naypadmasagarji. “In the last few years, he has travelled across the country by foot. He met thousands of people who told him about their biggest worries – failing businesses, losing families and getting involved in legal disputes. That is when we thought of an arbitration group,” a member had told this reporter.

The Jains launched an extensive scheme to provide medical insurance to every member of the community. The scheme is called Shravak Arogryam. Shravak refers to lay members of the Jain community. The scheme is unique because there is no insurance plan that exclusively covers members of one religious community. The scheme was the idea of Naypadmasagarji who felt it was the community’s duty to provide cheap medical insurance for families who do not have such safety. Jains across India can avail of medical cover by paying low annual premiums.

In September 2014, when Maharashtra was preparing for the assembly election, Mumbai’s Jains were being guided by Naypadmasagar in their strategy to get more representation in elected bodies. The monk said that he wanted more Jain candidates to contest the elections. “We are in talks with various political parties to give tickets to our representatives. Some of them will fight as independents too,” he had said while talking at an event in south Mumbai.

His followers do not think he said anything controversial during the Mira-Bhayandar elections. “He works for the benefit of the community,” said Bharat Parmar, a follower. “The Jain religion promotes vegetarianism; there is nothing wrong, or nothing new, about this. He (Naypadmasagarji) is not talking about elections; he was talking about something we believe in.”

Trishna Satra of the Jain International Trade Organisation’s women’s wing, said, “I do believe overall, there is a need for every religion, to be relevant, to talk about current issues,” said Satra. “If you have a monk saying that everybody should go to the temple it will not be relevant for a kid who is 14 or 15 years old. If he talks about television viewing it is pertinent.”

First Published: Aug 28, 2017 00:38 IST