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May 18, 2011 at 07:01pm IST

A question of succession after Sathya Sai Baba

Puttaparthi: Sathya Sai Baba turned Puttaparthi, a small barren hamlet in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, into one of the most famous religious centres in the world. Sai Baba, who breathed his last on Sunday, has left a huge empire behind him, estimated at a minimum 50,000 crore rupees. The Sathya Sai Trust owns over 1500 centres across the globe. It also runs world class hospitals and educational institutions at several places. But with no successor named by Sai Baba, there are fears over a bitter battle for control over his vast empire.

The Sathya Sai Trust consists of seven members which include Baba's nephew R J Ratnakar - the only family member - former IAS officer K Chakravarthy, noted Scientist Venkataraman and former CVC S V Giri.

With Baba's death the succession war at Puttaparthi to control the Sathya Sai Baba Central Trust has already begun.

Sai Baba's personal caregiver 33-year-old Satyajit is a front-runner to head the Trust, so is Baba's nephew R J Ratnakar.

There is unlikely to be any opposition to Satyajit except from Baba's nephew and this is largely due to the fact that a year ago Sai Baba had indicated that his caregiver should assume a bigger role.

The murmers of disagreement around the future have already begun out in the public However, according to J Geetha Reddy, Andhra Pradesh Minister there is no such dispute.

A close, long time aide of Baba D Adikeshavulu wants the government to have a bigger role. Adikashavulu, who heads the Whitefield centre near Bangalore, had an open tiff with the trust recently.

D Adikeshavulu, A long time, close aide of Sai Baba, said, "The Government will look into the succession matter. "

Critics of the Trust call its accounting system ambiguous. They say while all its services are free, no one knows how the trust money is spent or donations used. And despite denials, the Andhra government is actively considering having a larger say in the matters of Puttaparthi. One thing is clear that for the lakhs of devotees who come to Puttaparthi, Sai Baba's appeal won't fade away. The biggest question that remains is whether the trust stay united or will the succession war take an ugly turn after Baba's burial?

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