SAI BABA'S STYLE OF PEOPLE MANAGEMENT
It is clear to me from my long observations of Sathya Sai Baba devotees that a majority of of them take his flattery of them completely at face value. After all, they virtually all believe he is divine, an incarnate God - if not also an avatar and Creator of the Universe. Flattery on those premises is a powerful tool indeed. manipulative tool. The more spiritual devotees - in the true sense of the word, having personal humility and a good dose of self-irony - are not drawn merely by his giving them attention, but much more because they genuinely believe that he is a power for the good, his teaching is positive (though often rather simplistic) and that they are better able to serve in community with other like-minded people they work with in the Sai movement. A single glance from Sathya Sai Baba is considered a blessing by all followers, since one visits him not least to try to get some kind of inspiration at the least. The majority, however, are most evidently however not so reserved about themselves, especially not virtually all those he has elected to lead his organization, to whose heads the hon our goes like wine. They seek more of his attention and praise all the time, and egotistically they do whatever is necessary to keep their status as relative VIPs, doing whatever he says to the letter - especially never questioning anything he says or does, and covering up all his unfortunate and worse behaviour.
Most devotees are easily handled by this 'Lord and master' by the method of repeated attraction/repulsion, the psychological ‘push-pull’ treatment which keeps them uncertain of themselves and everything else, while still attached in hope of greater things for themselves. If such things very seldom actually come about - and their absence cannot be explained - they may be rationalised away by self-criticism, which is strongly advised by Sathya Sai Baba. I have seen this self-deprecation in the more vulnerable devotees again and again. The big egos - and there are more in that movement than one would believe from reading all the syrupy literature about 'brothers and sisters' shake off any self doubt with apparent ease. Due to his undoubted intuitive powers - including so-called 'cold reading' techniques, Sathya Sai Baba is very clever at gauging a person’s condition, and what it takes to keep them dependent on himself and his supposed 'grace' and 'blessings'… It may just need a word or two once in a while, or a sour face, an angry look - then again taking a proffered letter, or inviting them to an interview. He is aided in making these decisions by a wide-ranging number of informants, including organization leaders on the veranda, who ask him for favours for their groups and whom he sometimes questions. His closest servitors report back daily from all that is heard by them or their cronies throughout the ashram, and even outside it.
At darshan, some fall at his feet - some lying flat to kiss them - evidently mesmerised by paranormal events they see as issuing from his 'divine being'. They serve as public ‘fall guys’. This sorry state of affairs evidently gives them a lift at the time and may serve to impress those who have not yet committed themselves so fully. It is likely to put off those who do not have the sense of servility necessary for getting close to Sathya Sai Baba, which is helpful to the constant struggle the ashram staff have to weed out any kind of critics or troublemakers. Such persons hate facts that jar their belief in the benefits they imagine thus obtained, and reject in advance certain orders of fact as faithless fiction or ‘maya delusion’. Those who are promising material for some kind of office in Sai institutions often act much as if they were Sathya Sai Baba's unofficial spokesmen (nearly all men) who repeat only what they have been told, or what Sathya Sai Baba has said in his variegated talks and discourses.
Sathya Sai Baba has nonetheless shown himself remarkably unable to make proper use of the truly service-dedicated people with genuine human resources who have put themselves at his disposal of his Sathya Sai Organization. He must have rigidly 'true believers' and preferably those who will control and manipulate others towards the various ends he and his top officials decide upon. In several countries I which I visited major centres, I have found that the most civil, understanding and willing persons with genuine human and professional skills have time and again been alienated by the behaviour of certain leaders in the Organisation. Other such decent souls have left in a general exodus of good people since the scandal of sexual abuses broke in 1999 (see here)- and especially after the BBC film was shown worldwide. Even the more enlightened and understanding persons who hoed office have invariably pressed out after a time (such as Ron Laing, Harry Mansbridge, Lucal Ralli and Aime Levy in the UK alone!), or who leave of their own accord due to unacceptable compromises required of them and the often absurd limitations of the roles they find they are expected to fill in a set-up without any real democracy which is allergic to feedback, however constructive. Everything one must do is decided at the top and is handed down, like it or lump it. Excellence in the shape of social skills, previous wide experience of voluntary organisational work, or leading genuinely by example (not just by words) in face-to-face service work with the suffering, poverty-stricken or aged are very given much weight in the activities of the organisation when they know better what is required. Most of the top Sathya Sai Organization leaders do not fit this bill at all, though they all know how to present themselves in ways which make them seem excellent.
Add to all the conflicts in the Organization in just about all Western countries between native residents and the Indian diaspora devotees, frequently over leadership, preferred forms of worship or ritual and religious emphasis. These are very well-known to anyone who has been involved much in organisational matters as volunteers, members or leaders. The most entrenched leaders - nearly all having been very long-term in their posts (with their committee meetings, tourist trips to one another’s countries, junkets to India etc.) are outwardly as nice as pie to each other and to their reliable henchmen, but present another face to their imagined or real competitors and are less inviting or friendly towards many ‘ordinary’ devotees. Behind each others backs they are known to compete unreservedly to 'get ahead' and, as the Head of the Administration at Vidyagiri in Prashanth Nilayam told me once, "when Swami is away, we fight like dogs".
The formation of dominant cliques is no doubt largely unavoidable in any large voluntary organisation, but the Sathya Sai Organization should be an exception, if any of the stated precept about how to behave as members and leaders were followed properly.Yet in reality it reminds
much of a corporation with internecine strife and a social chasm between management
and staff. This reflects Sathya Sai Baba more than any other single person, since he selects the un elected top leaders and he evidently finds the rigid top-down structure and authoritarian functioning of
it all acceptable enough to do nothing about it. Westerners who are not afraid of mentioning in interviews the problems created by their leaders have time and again been promised changes by him, but without the slightest effect. The murders incident in 1993 was - according to much evidence - at least partly motivated by the belief of Vijay Prabhu and his helpers that Sathya Sai had given him the wink to clean up the corruption in Prashanthi Nilayam. Prabhu's helpers were shot down in cold blood by Puttaparthi police on the orders of Sathya Sai Baba's younger brother, Janakiramiah, and ashram officials I soon realised how things were
and, along with the members of the Oslo Centre, we rejected all opportunities
of rising within the international organisation.
During my 18 years in leading roles in the Norwegian organization, my wife and I eventually saw the need to insulated the other members from the pressures from above to partake in various impracticable and otherwise unacceptable schemes and time-wasting and contrived 'conferences' where none of us could influence the agenda nor the pre-determined outcomes etc. I turned down offers from 'higher-ups' of travelling and holding talks etc. to promote the organisation or its various courses in other countries... a kind of bribe to try to get me to toe the line of those leaders who wanted to take the honour of running everything as they were told to do.
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