When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Acharya Vidyasagar Maharaj in Bhopal to offer pranams, many eyebrows were raised since the head of state bowing his head before a naked monk was seen as something unusual.
By nature, Mr Modi displays high degree of respect before religious heads and spiritualists. He visits temples, ashrams as and when possible and he believes they give him strength and solace.
Vidyasagar monk has been very popular not just for his ascetic life, but for his views on certain matters.
According to local people, Acharya Vidyasagar is known for his hard austerity and long hours in meditation, and also holds influence beyond the Jain community. The 71-year-old has campaigned for promoting Hindi language and encouraged cottage industries. He has also been asking the Modi government to check brain drain and to reduce meat exports.
RSS Chief Mohan Bhagawat, BJP Chief Amit Shah too visited him earlier as did several BJP functionaries.
Not just Modi, recently, Acharya Vidyasagar has even addressed MP Assembly. He was accompanied by 37 monks, who were also completely naked.
Haryana Assembly too has invited a digambar jain monk to deliver a speech on spirituality. The nation observed with awe, the photos of how a naked swamiji could give sermons to the lawmakers.
It is not new that leaders with considerable following visiting ashrams and seeking guidance. When Kanchi Paramacharya was alive, all the politicians used to go to the Kanchi mutt and take the blessings of the seer.
In the recent past, we saw Presidents, Prime Ministers and Supreme Court judges visiting spiritual icon of Puttaparthi, Satya Sai Baba.
Spiritual gurus used to give lectures to MLAs, bureaucrats and Babus on the art of living.
But it is something unusual that digambar monks going to Assemblies and giving discourses. There have been divergent views on this matter as several people did not approve of the act. Since the matter relates to religion, they have confined their views close to their heart.
One cannot rule out the political significance attached in some cases. In the above-mentioned cases, it is the BJP which organized discourse or BJP leaders who visit the monks. The saffron party claims it is the voice of Hindus and brand Congress and other opponents as pseudo-secular.
The visits assume greater significance during election time as the leaders try to speak to their ‘constituency’ and BJP has been in the forefront of capitalizing what they feel as their ‘trusted vote bank’. Congress is no way behind it though they don’t take a national position on specific issues, their leaders do go according to their ‘local needs’.