Sai Baba upsets Telangana activists

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

File:Sathyasaibaba.jpg
Sathya Sai Baba

Indian spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba, 81, found himself embroiled in a political row after his recent remarks characterising the partition of the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) as a "great sin".

On a recent visit to Chennai he publicly spoke out against the proposed partition of India's fourth largest state, calling such a move a "mahapapam" (great sin) and claimed that there was no demand from the people to bifurcate AP into Telangana and Andhra states.

The comments caused an outcry among pro-Telangana activists who angrily voiced their protests in street marches and attacks on the Sivam building, the Baba's temple in Hyderabad, which was staffed by a few devotees. Shouting anti-Sai Baba slogans, the protestors pulled down a large picture of the holy man and trampled on it before taking it outside and setting it on fire. An effigy of the Baba was also reported to have been burnt, and twenty protestors were arrested following several police complaints.

Responses

The Baba, who preaches love and universal brotherhood, has several thousands of followers both in India and abroad including several heads of state, politicians, military officials, judges, film stars and sportsmen. Criticism of the Baba's comments have come from several quarters.

K. Chandrasekhar Rao, leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and former Union Minister, suggested that the Baba should restrict himself to religious functions and not involve himself in politics. "Otherwise, he should quit religion and join politics," Rao said. Congress MP Madhu Yaskhi Goud criticised the Baba for not assisting with the ongoing fluorosis problem in the Telangana region. Poet and Maoist sympathiser Gaddar asked the Baba to "shut up".

Swami Agnivesh, social activist and President of All-India Arya Samaj, voiced his criticism against the Baba for focusing on something "unnecessary" instead of speaking out on the recent Nithari killings. "As he is not a political leader he should not make such comments," he said, adding that he intended to write a protest letter to the Baba.

Sai Baba's followers in his home town of Puttaparthi responded by calling a 'bandh' in which shops and business establishments were shut down to protest against the remarks of the Telangana leaders, and effigies of Rao, Goud, and Gaddar were set alight. K. Kesava Rao, President of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, maintained that the Baba's comments had been "misinterpreted" and that the remark was not political. "All that Baba wanted to emphasis was unity and human oneness. But reference to Telangana in his speech was unfortunately misread," he said.

Digvijay Singh, Congress secretary-general disagreed with suggestions that Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy could have instigated the Baba to make his statement, and confirmed that his party approved plans for the creation of a separate Telangana state. "With due respect to Sai Baba we can say that the work for setting up the second state reorganisation commission will go on," he said.

Sources

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