Sri Sathya Sai Baba's propagation of spiritualism and preaching of Hindu philosophy never came in the way of his commitment to secular beliefs.
When the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy was at its peak in the 1990s, Sai Baba refused to buckle under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to issue a public statement favouring the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. VHP president Ashok Singhal made at least two trips to Puttaparthi in this endeavour but failed to extract any assurance from Sai Baba. He chose to remain neutral.
The spiritual leader's credentials are attributed by his devotees to his conviction that he was a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, whose teachings were an eclectic blend of Hindu and Muslim beliefs.
The Puttaparthi Baba had among his flock worldwide a large number of Muslim and Christian devotees. He told them that they need not give up their religion or their respective beliefs.
Another feature of Sai Baba's 70-year-long spiritual journey was the devotion he commanded from heads of state and government, of countries ranging from Italy to Sri Lanka and India, to Bollywood stars and top-notch cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.
The former Prime Ministers, P. V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee, were among the legion of big-time leaders who attended his birthday functions. But Sai Baba steered clear of party politics or partisanship on national and State issues.
Outside the fold of the devout, people will remember Sai Baba for his unparalleled contribution to providing water to drought-prone areas, besides his services in education and medicare. He funded a Rs. 300-crore project for supplying drinking water to 750 fluoride-hit villages in Anantapur district and introduced protected water schemes in Medak, Mahbubnagar, Chittoor and the two Godavari districts covering hundreds of villages.
The defining moment in Sai Baba's efforts for providing drinking water was the completion of the Kandaleru-Poondi high level canal (HLC) to carry Krishna water from the Telugu Ganga to Chennai city.
He contributed Rs. 200 crore for taking up improvement of the HLC, which got the project going and completed in a record 14 months, after it was started in October 2002. Justifiably, the waterway was named the Sathya Sai Ganga canal.