India would have been a better place without Satya Sai Baba

By Sanal Edamaruku

When Satya Sai Baba died this morning (24 April 2011) at the age of 85 years, he proved once again that miracles and predictions fail. He had predicted at a public gathering at his head quarters in Puttaparthy, in 2000, and repeatedly many times, that he would die at the age of 96 only. And till the last moment, many of his devotees clung to his word and waited for a miracle. May it be an eye opener for the millions of gullible people whom he misguided and deluded.

De mortuis nihil nisi bene, they say, say nothing but good of the dead. But I think Satya Sai Baba’s case qualifies for an exception. Too great is the damage that he did to India. His devastating influence on reason and scientific temper caused huge setback to the country. At a time, when scientific progress led to great social and economic leaps and scientific awakening started spreading all over India, Satya Sai Baba launched a “counter revolution” of superstition, supported by irresponsible politicians and other public figures who should have known better. In my judgment, this is his greatest crime. I have succeeded again and again to expose him publicly as a fraud, so did some other rationalists. But due to his political protectors he was never held responsible for his crimes against public reason. Nor was he ever booked for any other crime he was accused of. Numerous cases of alleged sexual abuse and murder are yet to be investigated, not to mention the financial secrets of his empire.

Satya Sai Baba insisted in all seriousness that he was god, the creator of the universe, and “proved” his divinity with a couple of small “miracles”. As son of a village tantric he was familiar with the hand sleights and tricks of the trade. However, he did not only fascinate poor and uneducated villagers with his fraudulent performances. Over the years, he managed to attract a galaxy of India’s rich and powerful, among them ministers, prime ministers, presidents, chief justices, top industrialists and superstars.

Satya Sai Baba had a special modus operandi that was the key for his astonishing success and the root of his enormous clout. Many of his high society devotees came to serve their own vested interests. Some came to rub shoulders with the prominent. Many joined the club because it was working as a powerful syndicate spreading its tentacles all over the political system. It was a way to the top jobs and a way to get things done. Others were seeking financial support or wanted to get rid of ill-gotten black money: The empire, it is alleged, was based on money laundering, using foreign devotees and branches. In fact, the huge foreign donations to Sai Baba stood in contrast to the comparatively modest number of active foreign devotees and sometimes quite weak foreign branches, some of them residing in private homes. That is no great surprise, when one considers that Sai Baba did not speak any other language than Telugu and travelled only once in his whole life abroad – to visit his friend Idi Amin in Uganda.

On his 80th birthday, Sai Baba’s supporters announced that he would turn from a miracle man to a philanthropist. That was, after I had demonstrated his miracles so often in TV shows that many kids in the streets could imitate them. That he since spent a part of the great fortunes, swindled out of the gullible, for social development around his ancestral village, is highlighted now to present him as a saint. But as useful and welcome hospitals, schools and drinking water projects for the poor always may be: this kind of alibi-philanthropy is well known even from mafia-bosses. It cannot be weighed against his crimes and the damage he has done to the Indian society.

In December 2005, I wrote a letter to then President Dr. Abdul Kalam, one of Sai Baba’s ardent supporters, which was never answered. I demanded criminal investigations against Sai Baba. If his social development projects are meant to be indulgence to nullify his crimes, this procedure is unprecedented and unacceptable, I wrote. It is a shame for India that well-founded accusations and numerous reputed witnesses against Sai Baba are ignored without any investigation. Do saffron clothes make an offender untouchable for the law? Do we have to tolerate that political protectionism raises its head so boldly, mocking India’s democracy?

Satya Sai Baba caused great damage to India. His irresponsible political patrons corrupted the political culture of India. Encouraged by the clout of Satya Sai Baba, a new clan of miracle mongers imitated him. India would have been a better place without Satya Sai Baba. The author is President of the Indian Rationalist Association
& Rationalist International



By Ram Puniyani

The death of Satya Sai Baba, April 24th 2011, has created a big turmoil, not only amongst his followers but also amongst those who had more mundane things to look after, like law and order, visit of VVIP’s to Puttaparthi etc. Bhajans (devotional songs) to mourn his death are being held all over in the country and abroad. A large number of those belonging to the list of ‘Who is who’ of the political, business world, and all those who matter in the country are already there, to mourn the death of the God. In addition ‘who will inherit his vast empire’, created single-handedly out of no where, the way he used to ‘create’ Vibhuti, gold chains etc. from thin air is another issue haunting those concerned.

Undoubtedly Bhagwan (God) Sai must have been the God man with a very large following and probably largest wealth amongst the leading Godmen. The latter can not be confirmed, as a large part of the wealth controlled by those presented as divine beings, is not known for various reasons. Not only that one does not know if any body can dare to think that Lok Pal type auditing of the wealth of these renunciators of Worldly goods should also be thought of. Such Godmen do demonstrate that you get more when you know how to ‘renounce’ the World, and of course part of the earnings are used for social service, which is made prominent and very visible part of the activities of these men of God.

Bhagwan’s life is mired in multiple controversies and there are many a dilemmas in understanding him. He was an expert in the tricks of Vibhuti production from thin air and also production of gold chains. Earlier he was also ‘producing’ HMT watches, but that stopped soon enough as the watches carry the date of manufacture on them. Many a rationalists confronted him and replicated his tricks and even took out yatras to demonstrate that there is nothing divine about such tricks. They are but clever manoeuvres of hand and even a magician of the repute of P.C. Sarkar also challenged the divine nature of these acts. Interestingly he was challenged to produce things like pumpkin, which he refused to do for obvious reasons.

Notwithstanding that his followers were undeterred and the number of his followers cutting across different spheres of life kept swelling. He had proclaimed that he is the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi. As an aside, the transformation of Shirdi Sai to the present level of opulent divinity is a phenomenon in itself as Shirdi Sai had lived a Spartan life under the tree with no material wealth to his credit and currently his idol sits on a Golden throne.

This self proclaimed reincarnation of Shirdi Sai not only must be sitting over one of the wealthiest empires but also went on to proclaim to be “God” himself and also prophesied that he would leave this physical body at the age of 96 years. Unfortunately the physical body could not be saved beyond the age of 85 years. Bhagwan who has saved so many lives through divine powers was to be put on ventilators for survival for quite some time and then too he could not be made to live his prophesy.

The remarkable thing about Bhagwan Sai is that he survived many controversies associated with his life. He was charged with Paedophilia, sexual abuse by various sources but such mundane things could not shake the firm faith of the ever expanding tribe of followers at home and abroad. Tom Brooke’s book (Avatar of the Night: Hidden Side of Sai Baba) described his own experience. Similarly sexual abuse of young male devotees on the pretext of yogic technique of ‘Kundalini raising’ also came to light. There was also a case of murder in his living quarters to which Bhagwan himself was a witness, but it was not investigated beyond a point as worldly laws probably don’t reach the realm of the spiritual world. The ties of Bhagwan with the one’s at the topmost echelons every time ensured that the matter is not pursued, be it the expose’ of his tricks or the cases of murder in his living quarters, all were ignored and soon banished from public memory.

To be fair to him, Bhagwan Sai is not the first one to proclaim himself as God. There have been the likes of Rajneesh, who for example began his Godly career from Acharya Rajneesh, got promoted to “Bhagwan Rajneesh” and then attained the status of Osho.

After the death of Bhagwan all those who matter in the corridors of power are making a beeline to pay homage to his mortal remains. One does not know whether these visits by the state functionaries are official or personal, one does not know whether such distinctions matter in our country, where the Constitution does permit us to practice and preach our faith at the personal level but not at the political level. State visits on such occasions in an official capacity should be a strict no no. Our Constitution does direct us to promote rational thought; but that too is ignored as all the rationalists like Abraham Kovoor or Premanand were totally bypassed by the mainstream power centres and the issues raised by them remained unanswered and unattended to. There are a couple of films questioning Bhagwan’s claims and also accusing him of sexual abuse, ‘Guru Busters’ and ‘Secret Swami’ are a couple of such films.  

Some one interestingly remarked that there are two types of politicians who visit the Bhagwan. First are those who are corrupt and want to hide their sin, and second are those who are sincere and work with the first lot. That apart, the impact of such Baba’s, has been a major accompaniment of politics in the name of religion. This is an era, where the waves of faith are trying to drown the boat of reason, with due support from the incompetent boatman, in the form of the state with all the power at its disposal. The tempest of faith is becoming so overwhelmingly powerful that even raising questions against these God men is becoming difficult, else how does one explain that a person calls himself God, does tricks which any magician can replicate with ease and is able to amass huge wealth, part of which is showcased as “charity work”. One also knows that trying to expose the prevalent blind faith is swimming against the tide.

One also concedes that these are also the times when the existential anxiety of a section of population forces them to resort to some support system. In the decades of 1970s it was LSD, now it is the ever proliferating posse of God men. Sai’s prediction about his future reincarnations will be a matter of great interest and curiosity, how the God will resurface and how his followers will recognize and worship his new reincarnation will unfold over a period of time. Meanwhile one hopes that some semblance of reason prevails while dealing with the innumerable Godmen, flourishing all around like mushrooms. (Issues in Secular Politics)