The Sathya Sai Org.’s self-advertisement and publicity




Date: 11-20-02

Document date: 11-19-02

By: Robert Priddy



SB's continued declarations and clear directives insist that the SSO is not to seek publicity other than through the example of the good behaviour and selfless work done by the devotees who are its members. He has time and again insisted that any kind of self-advertising is entirely foreign to the true spirit of selfless service. He repeated this in 1999 “Sathya Sai Organization abhors campaigns and advertisements. It does not function for the sake of advertisement. It is only Love that should bind us as one. It is our service activity that will broadcast our ideals, not advertisements.” (from SB’s 1999 Yugadi Discourse). 

Despite SB’s words, SSO leaders exert increasing pressure on members to contribute to spreading news of the SSO via the media. That true service of mankind is a private concern between oneself and God is evidently no longer to be much observed.

For example, photos of service work are frequently called for to mount exhibitions at the ashram for various festivals and conferences, or travelling showpieces of the SSO’s work! In 2000, each country was instructed by the leaders of the International SSO to “take action to project awareness” of SB by organising publication of articles, special supplements in the local press, talks, shows on local TV etc., in which SB’s service activity and his contributions to society were to be prominent.

Perhaps one should not be surprised at the SSO, for they are but following SB’s actual example! In discourse after discourse, however, SB himself praises to the skies the various projects for which bear his name (schools, colleges, hospitals, water scheme etc.), saying that no one does one thousandth of what he does and there is nothing like his free schools & hospitals anywhere else in the world! In his demonstrated ignorance of Western society, welfare state education and health, or of the world’s many charitable NGO’s and voluntary organisations, he claims that his projects are unique in human experience because they offer free education and free health services! Clearly, he follows a different ideal of publicity to what he preaches.

Rationalising advertising/publicity in the media: Some excerpts from a document circulated to groups and centres in 1985 by the Europe Group 1 Coordinating Committee show the peculiar self-contradiction that operated w.r.t. publicity in the SSO generally:

“The question of public meetings with audio-visual aids (information-meetings) has been brought up time and time again by various centres and groups. We are all well aware that we are not to mission in any way, but rather to spread the Divine teachings through our example as an inspiration to others. However, rules are that we should conduct regular public meetings in our centres/groups… Such meetings should contain information on Sathya Sai Baba (who is He?), His teachings, the meaning of His miracles (inner significance), the Organisation (why an Organisation?) the activities and the work of the Organisation emphasizing Seva (esp. Group Community Sadhana), Bal Vikas and EHV.”

Then the text soon also declares:

“When others arrange public meetings or in connection with radio/TV, we should not participate, if other religious organisations participate, as we want to avoid discussions and polarization. However, in connection with radio/TV and other public media, we may participate, if we have separate features, where the sterling worth of the teachings/message can be safeguarded beforehand.”

And later “…but we should be prepared to go to schools, companies/firms, public institutions & the like when requested and if this locally is considered right.”

In short, after lip service to the way Sai Baba would “spread the Divine teachings through our example as an inspiration to others”, something close to a carte blanche is given for spreading publicity. The above example is but one of many such subsequent attempts to rationalize the increasingly organized  publicity for SB, the SSO etc.

False publicity: Following SB’s example again, the SSO does not correct wrong information circulated about it by itself or other that would seem to put it in a good light, nor does it ever present any negative news about projects that failed or were flawed. All is presented as being divine perfection itself! Facts about itself, some of its projects and events that take place are constantly misrepresented by the Organisation, while all information is clinically censored to cover-up all ills. I have received testimony for all this from V.K. Narasimhan, a one-time investigative journalist of great experience, who was highly percipient and frank in correcting some of my mistaken impressions and opinions of how the organisation is run and what has been done by.

Non-existent villages project publicised:

One example of long-uncorrected publicity is about Sai Baba’s organisation having adopted 6000 villages (some quote it as 60,000 villages mentioned - perhaps only yet another unhappy Indian misprint?). In response to previous calls for village regeneration from Sai Baba, the project was instigated by Indulal Shah for the 60th birthday. No one I contacted in the SSO had any information on the project beyond what is in the 1985 publication from the SSB Publications Trust bookshop, The Beacon - a book about Sai Baba and his doings consisting in brief texts with photos.  About 1 1/2 pages of text make up the section entitled "All India Exhibition - Depicting Seva Activities in 4,200 Adopted Villages In Different States of India". It shows the model village built for this exhibition at Prashanthi Nilayam. One picture is of Shah taking Baba around it. It was inaugurated in Nov. 1984 by S.B. Chavan, the Home Minister later behind the quashing of murder investigations at Prashanthi Nilayam in 1993.

"The programme planners had decided to adopt 6,000 villages, leaving the choice to the state units. They had all been cautioned earlier by Sri Baba what 'adoption' meant. The villages are to be regarded as near and dear as the child you adopt." The text claims "Nearly 5000 of the targeted 6000 villages have been brought under the welfare plan already. The rest are to be covered within the time set for them....”

This project would require a large staff to be at all effective or develop - even as a shoestring affair, but no such staff has ever been seen or heard of.

Therefore I asked V.K. Narasimhan about this. He told me that the project was “a washout and was dropped within the first year of its inception in 1985. The main event had been an invitation via the SSO to send persons to visit Prashanti Nilayam and hear Baba give instructions on village improvement. At least several hundred persons came as village representatives from all around India, to whom the ashram offered free transport, free meals, Sai ‘darshans’ and other benefits. Laudable as this attempt to help India’s poverty-stricken and declining villages was, the activities dwindled rapidly down - after the small bonanza - to a handful of individuals here and there, as V.K. Narasimhan informed me and as the least investigative digging will bear out!

The project is even now sometimes referred to as if it were continuing in various SS Book Trust publications and brochures, since its demise has evidently been kept secret. Village uplift has continued on a much smaller scale locally since then, mainly by occasional Seva Dal or student village help projects, mainly within Sathya Sai Taluk close to Prashanthi Nilayam.

Exaggerations about 'EHV'

In 1987, having heard at a Sai conference in Belgium a great deal from Victor Kanu about the success of EHV education in the UK,  which he headed, I went to the UK for a long period intending to engage somehow in these activities, possibly even to try to start an EHV school there. There was plenty of publicity, a printed monthly tabloid newspaper edited by Kanu, with pictures of SSO leaders conferencing here and there, and mostly of Kanu and his wife. Much was written about the successes of Kanu in getting EHV up and running in UK. Victor Kanu was not very approachable, it turned out, but I got to know the deputy EHV leader, a young man called Chris Caine, well enough for him to tell me that, in fact, there were but two EHV classes in the whole of UK, one run by Kanu and his wife, the other for Indian immigrants by the then President of the UK SSO, an Indian lady. I found that this was typical of the panache with which matters are presented by SSO dignitaries.

The European Croatia Project:

The impressive figures presented for the workings of the SSO relief convoys to Croatia from 1992 onwards were doubtless correct. For example 2,600 tons of goods were donated and trucked to Croatia within a period of less than 2 years. However, the leaders of this project informed me at Prashanthi Nilayam in 1995 that, apart from themselves and a few very active Sai followers in Austria, the great majority of those who did the actual work involved were not involved with Sai Baba at all. Subsequently, UK’s Tony Budell joined and expanded the Croatia project further. The leader confided in me that it was exceptionally difficult to motivate SSO members to work with the convoys. This is an unfortunate example of SSO taking credit in the form of placards, published materials and other publicity for the freely given service of other people.


I wish to make the following addendum:

Andries KrugersDagneaux of the Netherlands has kindly informed me: "I think apart from Austria the members of the Dutch SSB org contributed quite a lot. There was much food sent by railway. I think about every 2 months there was a railway wagon sent to Croatia. The wagon was loaded near the railway station of Utrecht. I used to help quite often.
We used to collect food at supermarkets asking not for money but a donation in the form of basic food such as flour or tins."

There is no doubt that many tons of goods were delivered to Croatia under the auspices of the SSO. However, the initiator and leader, Mr. Richard Friedrich of Austria, himself told me in 1996 while we were at the 70th birthday in Puttaparthi that he had found Sai devotees in Austria and elsewhere (including other leaders in Europe) most difficult to inspire to work on this project and he and his wife had relied much on outsiders. From here in Norway we sent money to him for the Croatia Project, for we had no possibility of any effective distribution of goods and besides, we wanted to take seriously SB's dictum at that time that all should concentrate all efforts locally, not across borders! This dilemma was typical of plenty of others caused by conflicting directions from SB and the Organisation. However, we decided to help anyway.