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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 25, June 11, 2011

On Sathya Sai Baba (1927-2011)

Tuesday 14 June 2011, by Syed Shahabuddin


Sathya Sai Baba rose into prominence as an ‘incarnation’ of the great, universally respected savant Sai Baba of Shirdi. Later he claimed to be God. But God is immortal and Sathya Sai Baba was a mortal human being who died on April 24, 2011 at the age of 84. His death created a wave of shock and sadness among his followers in India and abroad who revered him for his spiritual powers, supernatural ‘miracles’ like deposits of vibhuthi, materialisation of miniature deities, and, later, even of various articles like rings or watches, which universally impressed his disciples. Though the ‘miracles’ were challenged by his rationalist detractors as sleights of hand, he did not agree to stand a scientific test.

Apart from the common people, the high and mighty of the land, including Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, MPs, senior bureaucrats and top industrialists regularly visited him and sought his blessings.

Sathya Sai Baba utilised the enormous donations he received from his disciples for funding big and small projects for the welfare of the common people and for establishing educational and service institutions of excellence. He formed a Trust to administer them. In this lay his greatness.

The skeptics always wondered why he could not materialise enough gold or silver to finance national development and change the face of the Indian society!
One only wishes that instead of concentrating on the welfare or development of the people in his vicinity who needed drinking water and health service, he spread his acts of philanthropy to all parts of the country which face similar basic needs and also educational and public health deficits. Such acts by a distant Trust out of humanitarianism and patriotism would have served as a model for the government and local NGOs.

An objection has been raised to the performance of the last rites of Sathya Sai Baba with full state honours, with his dead body wrapped in the national flag. This was totally unprecedented. Many VVIPs, including the President of the Republic and the PM, also visited and paid their respect. A question arises whether such visits were a part of public duty; if these were private visits, why the use of IAF aircraft?

Thus Sathya Sai Baba was secular in his approach, but he was essentially a Hindu Sant, who claimed to be God. The media have stressed that followers of all religions participated in his funeral. In fact there were one or two Muslim clerics. One wonders what they did and whether they were brought in for a photo-op.

New Delhi Syed Shahabuddin

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