TIRED FALSEHOOD AND THE ACTUAL FACTS
What follows relates to a recent article in the OPEN PAGE of THE HINDU, and Prof. Venkataraman's response, also published in the OPEN PAGE by THE HINDU on May 29, 2011 (Sunday). This exchange in the OPEN PAGE has also been covered by Radio Sai.
You can listen to this programme now:
Presented below is the web version, with some additional comments.
As most of you are aware, during the many decades that Swami was physically here on earth, the Media was largely indifferent to Him, His Message and His amazing acts of compassion, even though many of them were absolutely breathtaking. Yet, when His body was critically ill, they gathered in full force, right in front of the Hospital, to start virtually a new industry, that of spreading false rumours on Swami, interspersed with innuendoes and unsubstantiated as well as outrageous allegations about our beloved Lord. And finally when Swami ascended to the Formless aspect on April 24, 2011, the newspapers began carrying articles and in some cases even editorials on the legacy of Sai Baba, as they often put it. While some of them were reasonably fair and even objective, others committed to extreme points of view, took the opportunity to sling mud one more time. A few others tried the so-called via media of mixing the two extremes, varying the proportions to suit their own views on the one hand while taking care not to lose devotee readers on the other – let us face it, Swami had and continues to have millions and millions of devotees; that was why these journals played safe, adopting a 60-40 or 40-60 approach, if one might call it that.
Among the leading newspapers of India is The Hindu. Founded more than a hundred years ago, it occupies an important place in the life of many, especially in the South. Currently it is read widely all over India by people looking for quality journalism and a paper that is not sensation-mongering. In fact, the newspaper wrote a short but reflective editorial on the life of Bhagawan Baba, soon after He left us.
Most readers were therefore surprised to see that The Hindu in its edition of Sunday, May 15, carried on its Open Page, an article by a prominent scientist named P.M. Bhargava that was particularly nasty, to say the least. The author is a biologist who, working several years ago in the CSIR (or the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), established the Centre of Cellular and Molecular Biology [CCMB] in Hyderabad. This is one of the premium labs in bioscience in the country and has played a leading role in introducing DNA fingerprinting into India. All that was many years ago.
Subsequently, Bhargava retired and entered public life, partly as a social activist. An ardent atheist he, for example, strongly attacks religion claiming it is against what he calls scientific temper. On the scientific side, he was active in many bodies connected with the promotion of science in the country, for example, the three prominent science academies in India. Bhargava had been elected a Fellow of all the three academies but, thanks to his strong opinions and argumentative nature, he resigned from all of them since he could not get along. The same happened recently when he was appointed to the National Knowledge Commission, a top body asked to prepare a blue print for propelling India into the new and emerging knowledge-based society. Once again, expressing strong dissenting views, Bhargava left the Commission, though insiders say he was asked to resign.
Coming now to Bhargava’s article on Swami in the Open Page, letters to the editor began to flow immediately, some in support while others sharply critical of the article. Be that as it may, many here in Prasanthi suggested to Prof. G. Venkataraman that he should give a proper response. That has been done, but before we come to that part of the story, here is the article by Mr. P. M. Bhargava:
Mr. P. M . Bhargava's article on Bhagawan Baba which was published in the OPEN PAGE of THE HINDU on May 15, 2011. [Reproduced below is the entire text of this article]
As the dust after the death of Satya Sai Baba has largely settled, it is time to evaluate him, his work and its implications, objectively and unemotionally, for there is a good deal to be learnt from his life and death.
His rise to fame from an ordinary, even humble background, was based on (i) his claim that he was the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba; (ii) his claim that he represented divinity, that is, God himself; (iii) that, consequently, he had powers that no mortal man had; (iv) that he could provide succour and mental peace to people who came to him with problems of various kinds; and (v) that he engaged himself in charitable works like opening hospitals and providing potable water to villagers.
Let us examine his above claims and actions one by one. There is not a shred of evidence of rebirth; the very idea of rebirth goes against all of science. Every claimed case of rebirth that has been investigated has been shown to be fake.
As regards his being a reincarnation of God, the only proof he provided was that of performing miracles or miraculous acts. The fact is that he never performed a miracle. In fact, no miracle has ever been performed by any one. All miracles attributed to religious leaders are inventions of the clergy. An example would be that of Mother Teresa whom I met and who never claimed to have performed a miracle in her lifetime. But for her to be canonized after her death two miracles had to be — and were — invented and attributed to her. Every single act of Sai Baba that was a miracle in the public eye could be performed by ordinary magicians.
My colleague at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad, Dr. M. W. Pandit, performed them publicly. So did the well-known rationalist, the late Premanand. Invite Dr. Narendra Nayak by sending an email to <[email protected]> and he will come and perform for you every miracle that Sai Baba ever claimed to have performed — be it producing a ring or a Japanese watch or sacred ash from nowhere, or his photograph shedding sacred ash.
As regards the miraculous cures he claimed to have performed, we never heard of his failures. A distant cousin of mine had her young son suffering from an incurable disease. Sai Baba who blessed him said he would be cured. When she went back to him after the child's death, Sai Baba told her that he felt it was best for the child to come to him and that is what he caused to happen; so there was no reason for worry.
The cures that may have been effected were never established to be directly on account of Sai Baba's 'divine' intervention. They were probably natural or psychosomatic, of which numerous examples are known. After all, what do neuropsychologists or psychiatrists do? That is why he never allowed rationalists like Professor Narasimhaiah, former Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University, or Premanand, to come anywhere near him. It is believed that it were his men who actually once beat up Narasimhaiah.
The late Dr. Y. Nayudamma, the former Director-General of CSIR, who died in an Air India crash near Canada years ago, told me of his visit to Sai Baba with a once ardent follower, Dr. S. Bhagavantam, a former Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister. Nayudamma stood in front of Sai Baba with folded hands and most respectfully, requested him to produce a blade of grass between his palms. That would have been a miracle. But, instead, Nayudamma had to leave.
As regards his acts of charity, there are innumerable people in the country who engage in such acts to avoid undue attention focussed on their ill-gotten wealth. Accounting of his enormous wealth has never been transparent.
Sai Baba's unusual accomplishment was to recruit such a large number of the rich and the powerful, politicians and bureaucrats, law-makers, law-keepers, and law dispensers, amongst his followers. Perhaps this is more of a reflection on his followers than him!
Sai Baba's death was not a national tragedy. The national tragedy was his being given a state funeral, a state of official mourning being declared, and the country's political leaders — cutting across parties, including the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the NAC — spending precious time and resources to have his last darshan, relegating to the background the nation's constitutional commitment to a scientific temper.
(The writer is a former Vice-Chairman, National Knowledge Commission, former member, National Security Advisory Board and former founder and Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. His email is: bhargava.pm @gmail.com)
Now, this is Prof. Venkataraman’s response to Mr. Bhargava’s article:
Prof. Venkataraman's Comments on the Article by Bhargava on Sathya Sai Baba
In an article published recently in this newspaper, Prof. P. M. Bhargava has sought to evaluate ‘objectively and unemotionally,' the life and legacy of Sathya Sai Baba. Like the writer, I too come from a scientific background with, however, one important difference, namely that I have spent the last eighteen years in Baba’s ashram, following my retirement in 1992. Thus my response is based on direct personal knowledge.
Bhargava ascribes five reasons for Baba’s ‘rise to fame,’ as he puts it. Three of these are connected with religion and the issue of miracles, subjects on which people tend to have sharply divided opinions, to which of course they are perfectly entitled; I shall therefore not discuss them. The last two concern firstly, the succour and peace that people who came to Baba sought and secondly, his charitable works ‘like opening hospitals and providing potable water to villagers.’ These are what I wish to comment on.
Let me start with the last mentioned, which is summarily dismissed by Bhargava in exactly thirty six words with the condescending remark that ‘there are innumerable people in the country who engage in such acts to avoid undue attention focussed on their ill-gotten wealth. Accounting of his enormous wealth has never been transparent.’
This is a sweeping comment, made without offering a single piece of evidence concerning (a) ‘ill-gotten wealth’ (b) ‘enormous wealth’ and (c) the charge of lack of transparency. In science, one does not make a statement or remark that is not preceded by the presentation of appropriate facts and basis; and yet here is a scientist of repute doing precisely that! Frankly, I am stunned.
Going further into these unsubstantiated allegations - for they are nothing more than that - let us start with the issue of transparency. Baba executed all his projects via Trusts set up according to due process. Every single paisa spent on every single project came out of donations received by these Trusts via cheques and drafts from people all over the world. Some directly paid their contribution to the branch of SBI located in the ashram; at no time was any cash received by the Trust. All accounts have always been and continue to be regularly audited and statements concerning these are furnished to all concerned authorities as required by law, including the Income Tax Commissioner. Where foreign donations are concerned, explicit permission of the Home Ministry has been obtained to receive them and every year, full particulars are furnished in the prescribed format. It is worth adding that lately the Home Ministry has tightened regulations across the board, in view of concerns about terrorism.
Turning now to hospitals, the writer seems to be unaware that Baba’s Trust has set up two Super Speciality Hospitals that provide tertiary healthcare where, among other things cardiac and neuro-surgery are routinely performed, absolutely free – this includes everything from the initial consultation, all diagnostic tests including MRI and CT scans, surgical procedure, stay in ICU and general ward, all medicines, physiotherapy (where required), food, etc. Almost invariably, the beneficiaries are poor people who come from all over India and Nepal and occasionally from elsewhere too. During last (financial) year, over twenty five thousand people were treated as inpatients, the market value of the free service rendered being close to about Rs. 250 crores. Being a Trust activity, all accounts are audited as mandated and appropriate statements submitted to concerned public authorities. There is absolutely no question whatsoever of laundering of ‘ill-gotten wealth’ as alleged; in fact, there is no such wealth and there never was any, period.
Passing mention must also be made of the drinking water project executed for the tribals of the East Godavari region for the simple reason that tribals of this country have a long history of being neglected. Many years ago, Baba travelled extensively in the East Godavari region, and when it became possible, he had the water project executed even though no one asked him to. That was just one of the many ways in which he offered succour to the poor, often without their having to come to him. He did the same following the massive floods in Orissa in September 2008, when thousands of poor villagers lost their homes. The moment he heard about their loss he had seven hundred houses built in three affected districts, swiftly, quietly and, as always, without fanfare.
In conclusion, I find that Bhargava’s assessment is not only far from objective but also fails to meet the standards of accuracy expected of a scientist. Writing as he did in a reputed newspaper, the least the writer could have done is what all good journalists do, namely check his facts first.
The above text is what was read out over Radio Sai which, by the way was the article in full as submitted to The Hindu which was published in the OPEN PAGE section of this newspaper on May 29, 2011 (Sunday). However if one compares this with what actually appeared in print, one would find that there are some pungent sentences edited out (see the image below). This is strange for the article is supposed to have appeared in the OPEN PAGE! Maybe, the Editor thought that the deleted lines were too critical of Bhargava and represented bias. If so, what does one say of the entire article of Bhargava?
Curiously, on the morning of the same day (May 29, 2011), a columnist commenting on recent media attacks on a well-known cricket player said:
So what is it with the media raising controversy when there appears none? Not to sound naive here — there’s nothing new about sensationalism and yellow journalism — but it all starts to irk you when your beloved media plays over half-baked information and draws grand neurotic speculations and conclusions — much of which borders on defaming a person who appears rather decent.
That says it all regarding the media and how it does the 'reporting'.
Before we end this article, here are a few more remarks:
1. Please offer your comments to this special article, as always by writing to [email protected].
2. For your convenience, if you would like to download this entire audio program, you can do so by clicking here.
3. Since many people all over the world have been deeply pained and hurt by the numerous negative attacks by an ill-informed Media, we request you to draw the attention of as many people as you know, to the manner in which they can hear the program again, read this transcript or do both.
We also take the opportunity to announce that some time later when the dust settles down, we plan to do an in-depth program on how Swami related to the world and how the world for its part reacted to Swami bringing down the curtain on His earthly Form.
Thank you. Jai Sai Ram.
Radio Sai team.
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