Puttaparthi: With the passing away of the Sathya Sai Baba, questions have cropped up as to who will manage an estimated Rs40,000 crore Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust which has been built through donations of millions of devotees and is core of all philanthropic activities under his name.
The question assumes significance as the 85-year-old Sai Baba, born Sathyanarayana Raju, who died on Sunday, had not named his successor to head the trust.
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The trust established by the ‘Godman’ in 1972 runs free schools, a University, free hospitals, cultural centres and undertakes development and philanthropic works across 165 countries with money coming from donations of an estimated 30 million devotees.
The empire of the trust spreads across Puttaparthi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Kodaikanal and many countries including the United States. It accepts only cheque or cash donation through banks but details of income and expenditure are shrouded in a cloak of secrecy.
According to estimates, the value of the trust’s properties, movable and immovable, could be anywhere between a conservative Rs40,000 crore and a staggering Rs1.5 trillion spread across globe -- all tax free, people closely associated with the trust said.
The future of this gargantuan empire now hinges on the probable successors who will carry on Sai Baba’s legacy through the management of this trust.
Even if the trustees, who include eminent personalities like former chief justice of India P. N. Bhagwati, ex-central vigilance commissioner S. V. Giri, former CII National president V. Srinivasan among others, manage to name a person to chair the trust, whether devotees will accept the name or not, will remain a question-mark.
The trust, however, wants to allay fears of any such “vacuum” in carrying forward works envisioned by Baba.
“Institutions like schools, university, hospitals and other organizations are run by respective Trusts. There is or will be no vacuum and we firmly believe that Baba will continue to guide the trustees. The interests of the institutions are paramount,” the trust said in a statement issued recently after Sai Baba fell ill.
The most-talked-about contender to succeed Sai Baba is former IAS officer K. Chakravarthi, who quit the service in 1981 and relocated to Puttaparthi on the spiritual guru’s advice.
Chakravarthi, secretary of the trust since 1994, was said to be a close confidant of Baba and also has the confidence of trustees, but on the other hand faces criticism from devotees of keeping the spiritual leader away from masses and family.
Villagers living around Puttaparthi feel that while the brother of Sai Baba -- Jankiram -- was alive, he used to meet them and solve their problems and even took them to Sai Baba in case issues were not resolved. But things changed when he died and Chakravarthi started wielding more influence, they say.
Chakravarti was a district collector at Anantapur when Sai Baba’s mission was being built.
Another candidate for heading the trust is Jankiram’s son R. J. Rathnakar, an MBA who is also the only family member of Sai Baba in the trust. Although he was inducted into the Board of Trustees recently, he does not seem to enjoy the confidence of a majority of trust members. Rathnakar may not be having any visible political influence but his father Jankiram was district president Congress of Anantapur for nearly 11 years.
The third important contender for shouldering the responsibility of managing this spiritual empire is Sathyajit - personal attendant of Sai Baba since 2002.
33-year old Sathyajit, who joined Satya Sai School at the age of five, completed his education from Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning with an MBA degree as a topper of the University. After passing out, he devoted his life to Sai Baba and is said to be so important that without his permission, no outsider can enter inner sanctum of Sai Baba’s Pasathi Nilayam.
The trust is also fearing a possible takeover by the Andhra Pradesh government by invoking Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act, 1959, which has been denied on-record by the revenue minister N. Raguveera Reddy.
However, it would not take long for the government to interfere if things go awry after the demise of Sai Baba, people believe.
Followers were latching on to belief that Sai Baba will live up to the age of 96 when, according to his prophecy, he would pass away and his successor would be born in Karnataka’s Mandya district in 2030.