Devotees of Sri Sathya Sai Baba Assemble For Darshan at the Hill View Stadium in Puttaparthi in 2000.As India’s most famous godman, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, 84, recovers from a health scare in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, the framework for transition is already in place. The all-powerful caucus, the Sri Sathya,Devotees of Sri Sathya Sai Baba Assemble For Darshan at the Hill View Stadium in Puttaparthi in 2000.As India’s most famous godman, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, 84, recovers from a health scare in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, the framework for transition is already in place. The all-powerful caucus, the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT), established in 1972 to direct the management of his gargantuan empire, will call the shots after the spiritual guru ceases to be around as its chairman.The SSSCT supervises how the functioning of the welfare entities, including educational and health facilities, are to be run and controls the purse strings of several trusts with a team of sharp auditors. But the SSSCT is tightlipped when it comes to the fabulous wealth of the Sathya Sai Baba network, estimated to add up to over a staggering Rs 40,000 crore, including movable and immovable assets in India, besides those in 165 other countries.The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences at Puttaparthi where Sathya Sai Baba is being treated.Much of it is invested in schools, colleges, hospitals and other health facilities. Donations from his six million active devotees-another 31 million are intermittent followers-pour in, adding to the already full coffers of the trusts. All donations to the sssct are exempt from tax. Besides, what keeps the money coming in is a quid pro quo between the influential among the faithful. The network helps them strike business deals and they, in turn, make a donation to the Sai Baba’s activities.The SSSCT has steadfastly refused to divulge details, covering itself under a cloak of secrecy. Such is its clout that even presidents and prime ministers, among other high and mighty, are forced to drop protocol during their visits to pay respects to the Sathya Sai Baba.advertisementSri Sathya Sai BabaLack of transparency may have fuelled speculation about the exact size of the wealth and apprehensions about funds being misused, but the SSSCT does have an elaborate system of checks and balances in place to rein in siphoning of what the devout have contributed to Sathya Sai Baba’s multifarious charities. The credit for this largely goes to two individuals: the SSSCT secretary K. Chakravarthi, a former district collector of Anantapur (Puttaparthi is part of it) who quit the IAS to work for Sathya Sai Baba, beginning as the registrar of the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in 1981, and S.V. Giri, a former IAS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre who resigned as chief vigilance commissioner in 1998 to become the sixth vice-chancellor of the Sri Sathya Sai University and built a network of educational institutions. They have turned the entire gamut of activities into a single mammoth non-governmental organisation.The SSSCT runs the Sathya Sai University complex, the 220-bed Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, where he was rushed when he fell ill; a world religion museum, Chaitanya Jyoti; a planetarium; a railway station; a hill view stadium; a music college; an administrative building; an airport and an indoor sports stadium in Puttaparthi. It also runs a general and specialty hospital in Bangalore, several other hospitals, including two for eye care, and a network of dispensaries. The trust has also commissioned and funded several drinking water projects, including one for 731 villages in Anantapur district, and helped in lining the sides of the Kandaleru-Poondi canal to take Krishna water to Chennai.While Prashanti Nilayam is the Sathya Sai Baba’s headquarters in Puttaparthi, Brindavan at Whitefield on the outskirts of Bangalore and Sai Shruti Ashram in Kodaikanal are the ones he goes to during summers. There are also 1,300-odd Sathya Sai Baba centres across the world which run schools, health and cultural centres. Sathya Sai Baba’s Educare programme has founded schools in 33 countries. There is also the digital radio network-Radio Sai Global Harmony. The well-entrenched Sathya Sai network will use all these facilities as his legacy to propagate his teachings.The godman has institutionalised all the activities with help from trusted professionals, including eminent jurists like ex-chief justice of India P.N. Bhagwati and, in earlier years, Supreme Court judges V.R. Krishna Iyer and V. Balakrishna Eradi, retired Andhra Pradesh High Court judge Y.V. Anjaneyulu, besides politicians of all hues and bureaucrats.With foresight, he has stalled all attempts by relatives to corner the trusts and the corpus as a family inheritance. There are nearly 200 relatives in the extended family who have opened restaurants and lodges in Puttaparthi itself or turned professional, banking on his influence and cashing in on his recommendations. The only one among them active on the SSSCT was his brother, R.V. Janakiram, until his death in 2005.advertisementAlienated, some of Sathya Sai Baba’s relatives joined atheists and other non-believers to denounce the welfare activities as well as the godman’s legendary magical powers. Janakiram’s son, R.J. Ratnakar, was inducted as a member of the SSSCT late last year but does not wield much clout. It is expected that some members of the family will, after he is gone, try and expose the odd failing in the running of some Sathya Sai institutions. On this, the opaque SSSCT has poor defence. It will perhaps have to accept a generational change in management. Differences may crop up but are expected to be sorted out as all concerned are apprehensive of the Andhra Pradesh government effecting a takeover, invoking the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959.Unquestioning faith and devotion is the hallmark of a Sathya Sai devotee. It has been ingrained so deeply in followers over the past seven decades that anyone raising doubts is spurned, if not turned away. This is why devotees will wait out the transition-after Sai Baba’s death at the age of 96-for his successor who, according to his prophecy, will come in the year 2030 from Gunaparthi village in Karnataka’s Mandya district. This is also why, after the initial pressing of panic buttons on learning he was critical, life was soon back to normal in Puttaparthi.As a collective leadership, the SSSCT may not find it a daunting task to pursue the goals set by the godman. There are funds and systems aplenty. With his devotees keeping a constant vigil against any degeneration and decay, things can go awry only if the personal whims and fancies of those managing the institutions override the larger public interest. If things do spin out of control, the Andhra Pradesh government will be forced to step in. Perspective planning has transformed the individual into an institution. All that remains is to immortalise him.