Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi flew down to Puttaparthi from Delhi in a special aircraft on Tuesday evening. They drove straight to Prasanthi Nilayam ashram, the temporary resting place of Sathya Sai Baba’s mortal remains, where, after placing wreaths near Sai Baba's body, they sat for 10 minutes listening to bhajans.
Both Singh and Gandhi exchanged a few words with Srinivas, a member of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT), the apex body in charge of Sai Baba’s empire spread across 166 countries.
They were accompanied by Union ministers Ambika Soni and SM Krishna, Andhra Pradesh governor ESL Narasimhan, and CM Kiran Kumar Reddy.
Other VIP visitors included, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Sri Lankan cricketer Arjuna Ranatunga, santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma, violin maestro L Subramaniam and percussionist Sivamani.
Meanwhile, officials claimed over 6 lakh people had visited the small town, 150 km away from Bangalore, since Sunday. The numbers prompted ashram authorities to extend the darshan deadline to midnight.
As devotees jostled for one last glimpse of their guru, buffeted by controversies, the SSSCT broke its silence for the first time. Trustee and Sai Baba’s nephew RJ Ratnakar said the trustees were “unanimous” in their decision to continue with their duties.
Ratnakar’s statement comes in the wake of media reports about a succession war between two groups of trustees. Other reports about accusations levelled at Sai Baba’s close aides by some politicians and devotees, prompted the Andhra police to provide security to all members of the trust.
“It’s (security) not confined to Satyajit alone (Sai Baba’s trusted aide), it covers all the members,” said a top police official of Hyderabad.
According to government source, the SSSCT would meet on Thursday and then decide on the successor. The source added there would be no government interference in the trust activities. "They are capable, let them manage," he said.
(With inputs from Prasad Nichenametla)