Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Aug 15:
The brand image of the controversy-ridden Srimad Sarathi Dev, better known as Sarathi Baba, has taken a heavy beating after his alleged immoral activities were out in the public domain.
Nothing symbolised the telling knock that Brand Sarathi has taken better than the pictures of the self-styled godman and sundry other articles used to worship him by the faithful strewn all over the Kuakhai bank on the outskirts of the city a few days ago.
The Baba and his immoral ways has dominated talk in drawing rooms, class rooms, offices, road side tea and paan stalls – in short, virtually all public places – since the dirty details of his evil empire started trickling in through media reports. With the Crime Branch extracting more information about his fraudulent activities, the trickle has now become a virtual deluge.
The self-styled godman’s multi-million rupee empire had become a brand and was minting currency in the form of donations and proceeds from sale of merchandise.
The image of the Baba embossed on merchandise such as lockets, stickers, incense stick packets, bibhuti sachets, key chains, and acrylic photo stands to name a few, were selling like hotcakes before the scandal broke.
Pictures of the super rich Baba were seen all over the state: in transport buses, taxis, auto rickshaws, provision stores, shop hoardings, restaurants, saloons, sweet stalls, you name it. These pictures of the Baba had become a mandatory fixture on the back of auto rickshaws in particular.
Following the expose by television channels and subsequent arrest of the fake godman, the gullible devotees of Srimad Sarathi are yet to come to terms with this huge breach of trust.
The ashram in the capital city in Laxmisagar area now wears a deserted look with a lock hanging on its door. An eerie silence prevails at the once happening place. Though Sarathi very rarely visited this place, his followers regularly organised satsangs (group prayers) and spiritual discourses at the venue. Huge crowds used to descend at the recently forbidden place clogging the road with vehicles.
With the popularity of the ashram, several shops had come up in the vicinity. The stores adjacent to the ashram had put up boards with the picture of Baba and were doing good business.
Almost half the stores which were selling ashram products earlier have now downed their shutters. The restaurants, medicine stores and others commercial establishments, which had erected billboards with Baba’s image, are perplexed after the bust. As was expected, some have pulled down the boards while others have replaced them with new ones.
“My family members were devotees of Srimad Sarathi Dev. After my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we two visited the ashram frequently – even after she passed away. I had enormous faith and belief on him. I had donated Rs 5 lakh to the ashram. I am in a state of shock and disbelief that the person whom we revered could do the things which have been exposed by the media,” a devotee of Sarathi Baba from Laxmisagar area not wishing to be named said.
The empire of the controversial godman, now in Choudwar jail, grew tangentially and had created a goodwill that is under scrutiny now.
Brand ‘Sarathi’ received – and is still receiving – a real battering on social media platforms with cartoons and caricatures, many of them rather tasteless, being ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ by hundreds of people every day.
The Baba’s credibility and image have nose-dived faster than the Greek economy.