The god that failed
Published: July 4, 2011 - 15:10
Gods and Godmen are failing all around us. Doubts and reservations have replaced the halo around those who have been giving spiritual fix to their unquestioning followers. Sathya Sai Baba, who died on April 24, 2011, has been worshipped as God on earth by millions of his followers for his magical abilities, whereby he would produce from thin air miscellaneous objects: ash, Rolex watches, sundry gifts. Controversies never left Sai Baba during his 80-year life journey. His miracles were questioned by rationalists and scientists, who criticised them as a clever sleight of hand.
During his lifetime, he shrugged off not only these allegations but also mysterious deaths in his ashram. His powerful followers, including prime ministers, chief ministers, powerful businessmen and bureaucrats, gave him immunity and kept him from harm’s way. His death, however, has fuelled newer controversies, besides stoking the old ones.
During his lifetime, Sai Baba created enormous, unimaginable wealth. He earned his legitimacy, besides his display of magic, through the public works he undertook to ease out the arid lives of local people in the drought-stricken Anantapur region in Andhra Pradesh. So he set up a top class hospital, college, irrigation projects, among other things. When he was alive, no one made allegations about self-aggrandisement of any kind, and every act of his was seen to help the needy. Now, after his death, the façade that had been created around his persona is coming off — layer by layer.
Relatives and trust members squabbling over the control of his vast empire (estimates of his wealth range from Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 1.5 lakh crore) are not the only reason for the growing degradation of his image. What is hurting his followers more are reports of ungodly accumulation of obscene amount of riches in his private quarters. When the doors of his residence called Yajur Mandir were opened in front of income tax officials, chartered accountants and trust members, their eyes popped out. Note-counting machines of the State Bank of India were used to count Rs 11.56 crore of hard cash. There was 98kg of gold, 307kg in silver, and innumerable pouches carrying diamonds and precious stones stuffed in the vaults.
Sai’s craving for material things, however, was not just confined to money, gold and silver. His sanctum sanctorum had cupboards full of branded shoes, perfumes and hair sprays. The God, it seems, liked to wear Adidas and Nike shoes and had 500 pairs of them, all neatly lined up as if in a showroom. Expectedly, there was no explanation from the trustees about what Baba was doing with this money and the ‘worldly goods’, and how they came there. Gods have no accountability, or PROs, so no one explained.
A few days later, it became clear that Yajur Mandir was not the only place where these unexplained funds were stashed. There were other vaults and hiding places in Puttaparthi where wads of currency notes were stacked up. A car driven by a trustee of the Saibaba trust was hauled up ferrying Rs 35 lakh to Chennai. On putting the driver through the wringer, the police learnt, according to reports, that the driver was making his tenth trip.
Quite clearly, the trustee, a top businessman, was desperately trying to move funds as fast as possible out of Puttaparthi. Andhra Police is investigating the dubious movement of monies, but it is unlikely the true story will ever come out. After all, the people who gave immunity to Baba are still around and any exposure of what really transpired in Puttaparthi would show them in poor light at a time when sections of India’s corporate sector are looking so corrupt, crumpled and dirty.
Even a cursory commonsensical understanding of what has transpired after Baba’s death raises uncomfortable questions about his life and times. Were some corporate houses using him to wash their ill-gotten wealth? What was the source of his funds? Was he ever probed by the income tax department?
Many of these questions surely apply to the sundry Sankaracharyas, scores of super-rich godmen, and TV yogis like the multimillionaire Baba Ramdev — who, in his folly, took on the central government on corruption. It is time that the government used the scandal of Puttaparthi to regulate these divine conshops so that the gullible and vulnerable are not swindled. And the fraud gods, chasing dubious wealth and luxury, are exposed for what they truly are.