The autumn of the godman

84-year old Sathyanarayana Raju is feeling a little under the weather. Better known as India's most famous godman Sathya Sai Baba, Raju was hospitalized on March 28 after complaints of breathing problems. An expert medical team is taking care of him - amongst other things reports suggest that he is on a pacemaker, ventilator and continuous renal replacement therapy. The Andra Pradesh State Government has also swung into action and sent two top IAS officers, Principal Secretary Health, Dr P V Ramesh and Principal Secretary Finance, Shri L V Subrahmanyam to Puttaparthi to oversee the medical rescue efforts.

For some one who conjures gold rings out of air and heals without modern medicine or surgery, this is surely a dreadful situation to be in. However, if you consider Baba's own discourse, the state government is wasting precious public assets on bhagawan's health.

My power is immeasurable; My truth is inexplicable, unfathomable (..) Now, I must tell you that, during this Sai Avathar, there is no place for even such 'drama' with scenes of failures and defeats! What I will, must take place; what I plan must succeed. I am Truth; and Truth has no need to hesitate, or fear, or bend. (..) I am beyond the reach of the most intensive enquiry and the most meticulous measurement. Only those who have recognized my love and experienced that love can assert that they have glimpsed my reality (..). Do not attempt to know me through the external eyes.

Building up a vast empire of followers and assets over the years, in the name of his divine powers, charitable acts and connections with India's elite classes - Sai Baba is of course not alone in this line of work. Scores of shady characters and organizations masquerade as Babas, Brothers and Ammas in India. They own thousands of crores of rupees worth of assets, evade income, wealth and property taxes and offer token "social services". A hospital there, a hug here and a school somewhere is enough to whitewash their white-collar crimes. Not to mention the veneer of legitimacy bestowed by Chawans, Anthonys and Advanis who want to appear to quiver in worship and grovel in submission before them.

Mr. Raju, here's wishing you get well soon. May the good doctors, nurses and modern medicine heal you - and the police protect you from your own marauding devotees. And after that, you owe the public an apology, and the state, your tax dues.