Sai Baba's demise, questions crop up over 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 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 today, 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 P N Bhagwati, ex-Central Vigilance Commissioner S V 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.

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