Sai Baba's legacy

Sathya Sai Baba’s demise at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh will leave millions of his followers feeling orphaned. Revered as a ‘living god’ by his devotees, the 86-year-old Sai Baba was regarded as an avatar of the Shirdi Sai Baba. His devotees came from across the world and spanned all classes, castes and religions. He spoke of the unity of all religions. Sai Baba was known for his ‘miracles’. He was believed to produce vibhuti, watches, necklaces and rings out of nothing. However, it is the enormous philanthropic work that he engaged in that he will be remembered for generations to come. He set up scores of hospitals and clinics that provided medical treatment of the highest quality. Importantly, the poor could access this treatment for free. Sai Baba also established educational institutions, some of the finest in the country.

Drinking water projects slaked the thirst of residents of Chennai and several semi-arid districts of Andhra Pradesh. But Sai Baba was a controversial figure too. Rationalists dismissed his ‘miracles’ and manifestations as clever cons, aimed at tricking credulous people. They pointed out that his reluctance to perform ‘miracles’ under controlled and scientific conditions was indicative that his ‘supernatural powers’ did not in fact exist. But all those controversies pale into insignificance when one considers that Sai Baba’s charisma attracted both the elite and the downtrodden and he devoted most of his energies and wealth for serving the society.

How will Sathya Sai Baba be remembered? Sai Baba himself is reported to have said that he performed miracles merely to capture the attention of people, to create an aura to nudge them towards donating money and working for the betterment of society. Presidents and prime ministers of many countries, eminent scientists, sportspersons and politicians were among his ardent devotees. But unlike many other godmen, Sai Baba used every ounce of his power and influence not for self-aggrandisement but for the betterment of people and creating basic infrastructure of education, health, sanitation and drinking water, virtually working like a one-man government.

Whether the humanitarian work he set in motion will survive his passing will be keenly watched. During his lifetime, Sai Baba built an enormous empire and there is a possibility of a war of succession breaking out among members of the Sathya Sai Trust over the control of this empire. The government and trust members must ensure that the institutions and legacy he has left behind will be long remembered.

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