Sai Baba’s death leaves question mark on Rs.40,000 crore empire

Puttaparthi (Andhra Pradesh), April 24: death of spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba has left a question mark on the future of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT), estimated to have assets worth Rs.40,000 crore ($9 billion).As Baba, who was chairperson of the trust, left no successor to the massive empire, his death might trigger a fight for succession among the trust members which include his nephew R.J. Ratnakar.

While some eminent devotees of Baba believe that with personalities like former chief justice of India P.N. Bhagvati on the board, the trust will carry on in a smooth manner various charitable work in India and abroad, they also fear the government might take over control in case of any rift among the members.

“There is no rift among the trust members but I can’t say this about Baba’s family members,” a retired police officer, who is an ardent devotee of Baba said on condition of anonymity. He said the government might take over if such a situation arises.

Ratnakar, son of Baba’s brother, reportedly wanted cheque power which is presently with trust member secretary A. Chakravarthi, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who quit his job on Baba’s advise to join his network.

Though not a member of the trust, Satyajit, Baba’s personal caregiver, is allegedly trying to have a greater say in the financial matters as Baba had reportedly promised him last year a key post on the trust.

Reports in a section of vernacular media suggest that suitcases full of money and gold were taken out of Prashanti Nilayam, the ashram of Baba. However, some well-known devotees have denied the reports.

“Since all the contributions to the trust come in the form of cheques and it does not accept cash, there is no scope for misappropriation of even a single rupee,” said former judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court J. Eswara Prasad.

The trust always kept itself away from the media. Not much is known about the donations it receives from India and abroad, which are exempt from tax.

Since Baba’s devotees include heads of states and governments, rich businessmen and celebrities. The trust is believed to have received donations running into billions of rupees from across the world. The lack of transparency, however, has given rise to suspicion.

By Mohammed Shafeeq