Questions crop up over Sai Trust successor

With the passing away of the Sathya Sai Baba, questions have cropped up as to who will manage an estimated Rs 40,000 crore Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust which has been built through donations of millions of devotees.

Last Updated: Apr 24, 2011, 14:23 PM IST

Puttaparthi: With the passing away of
the Sathya Sai Baba, questions have cropped up as to who will
manage an estimated Rs 40,000 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 86-year-old Sai
Baba, born Sathyanarayana Raju, who died on Sunday, has not named
his successor to head the trust.

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 Rs 40,000 crore and a staggering Rs 1.5 lakh
crore 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 PN Bhagwati, ex-Central
Vigilance Commissioner SV 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 organisations 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 RJ 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 Sathya Sai School at
the age of five, completed his education from Sathya 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 Revenue Minister N Raguveera Reddy.

However, it would not take long for the government to
interfere if things go awry following 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.

PTI