Letter of a prominent sai devotee leader to
Barry Pittard, and his response:
Document date: 11-25-02
From: xxxxx xxxxxxx
Thank you for your timely reminder of the realism of terrorism. You raise an interesting possibility of terrorism vis a vis Sai Baba Ashrams.How seriously do you and the Expose effort evaluate this threat? Is this simply speculation on the level of possibility, or have you been advised further that this is real? Have you received any intimations or suggestions vis a vis islamic reactionaries and Sathya Sai Baba? This is of serious concern, for many do travel at these festival times. I would be interested to hear from yourself and the Expose in regard to this matter.
How seriously do you and the Expose effort evaluate this threat?
I am completely on my own in this. From Expose people, I've received both complimentary email, saying things like excellent, good on you for raising the warning and "fore-warned is fore-armed," and upset response (from the USA) saying e.g., that Islamic fundamentalists may read the piece and start thinking of Puttaparthi/Whitefield as a target.
An occasional person has said that I lay myself, and the Expose, open to attack by the sai forces. I say, let them all come on, if they must. May genuine discussion thrive.
I anticipated some of the responses before I wrote the piece. However, I was determined to let people on all sides know about my thinking in these matters. In the case of former devotees, there are many who still have friends and family who visit Puttaparthi. They may all be able to find ways to get the message across. I am challenging both former devotees and devotees to, for heaven's sake, take the matter seriously! Not least am I concerned that some devotees - thinking that "swami will protect us" - will take unnecessary risks, and hasten of to visit the ashram at danger time. May they be reminded that their example in ignoring the risks models to others, who may not be so 'advanced' in their faith, an unconcern with the issue.
My view is that www.exbaba.com is not exactly likely to be among favourite reading by the terrorists, and that the real issue is not whether fundamentalist 'Islamic' planners are aware of Puttaparthi/Whitefield but rather the danger of the rest of us acting in anything but a highly alert, clear and conscious way about threats. How absurd to think that these terrorists would not see the ashram where sathya sai baba spends Christmas as even as # 1 target to get at Westerners in India - particularly those from countries that support the US). Perhaps I could better have put the following paragraph at the begining of my article instead of near the end:
Some may tell you that mentioning this potentiality runs the risk, if publicized, of giving ideas to the terrorists. First, however, terrorist planners are typically far better informed and intelligent than this belief achnowledges. Second, it is far better for us to be well-warned, so that the rest of us can be far better informed and intelligent!
Have you received any intimations or suggestions vis a vis islamic reactionaries and Sathya Sai Baba?
Basically, through an 'old boy' network and other approaches, I am in touch with some experts in international terrorism, and have asked them to check and distribute some of the ideas I have had. I have also sent material to my own government (Australia) and to many other officials and agencies, initially in those countries whose citizens may be thought to be most at risk. Having a background of living at Puttaparthi/Whitefield for a number of years or else observing it from afar for twenty-five years, I have then tried to imagine myself into the 'sandals' of Middle Eastern terrorists who wish to cover all the possibilites of large gatherings of westerners.
This is of serious concern, for many do travel at these festival times.
Emphatically yes! And you will note the Chanukah dates. How many times do we recall our Jewish friends/baba devotees visiting at this time over the years! Even in my first Christmas time at Whitefield in 1977, this was the case. Please also picture in mind those many times when we walked - hundreds of us and westerners only! - in procession bearing candles. For the purposes of a terrorist attack, this practice would isolate and expose westerners, if the terrorists ever bothered to discriminate.
I would be interested to hear from yourself and the Expose in regard to this matter.
I wish to go it alone, here (not entirely an unfamiliar experience, I may add). The speculations are mine, and I shall take full responsibility for them.
By the way, my recollections go back to late 1997 when I think an Aum Shinrikyo team was stopped by Indian police at Bombay airport. (Although the matter bears all the signs of being suppressed by the Government of India and Puttaparthi authorities. Remember, by the way, how effectively the latter damage-controlled information about deaths and maimings in the crowd swarming for a glance at the Indian cricket team going past in their bus outside the ashram). Aum Shinrikyo, my information goes, were linked to a consignment of very high explosives destined for Puttaparthi. Apparent target: sathya sai baba, scheduled to attend his sponsored International Cricket Match on December 30th at his Puttaparthi ashram, filmed by Doordarshan for consumption of India and other countries. You and I were there, and I sported your camera, recall? Many of India's leading cricket journalists were present at the match, and I even got to sit with them on the Mandir verandah, whereupon ssb came up and chatted with me, for Heaven knows what purpose.
I have wondered why would Asahara have an interest in sathya sai baba with Doordarshan cameras switched on? One notion: Asahara is messianic, and let us suppose he knew well of sai baba's avataric claims - therefore, I query: was Asahara disputing 'divine' turf - as it were? Did he have some bee in his bonnet? Asahara, languishing in prison, is off-scope at the moment, but his fervent and often highly skilful, wealthy and equipped devotees and admirers are still scattered round the world.
Certainly, there is a whole colony of Japanese living at Puttaparthi. Since the time of the cricket match, they have been under strong accountability to Puttaparthi authorities - signing in and out between ashram and village, etc. Certainly, many beggars have been used by ashram authorities in
surveilling activities, etc. A number of exeedingly wealthy and influential Japanese frequent sathya sai baba, believing him to be the world savior, and Asahara may have had his own people among them. It is documented that a much younger Asahara visited the Dalai Lama, who years later put out a news brief on the matter, distancing himself from any meaningful association with the fellow. I wonder if Asahara's wanderings included Puttaparthi or Whitefield.
(On a lighter note, I should pause to tell you that Prasanna, India's former great tail, told me that he and Gavaskar had invited Sir Donald Bradman to attend, who declined because of ill-health).
Through some decent sources, I have discovered that LTTE have wanted to assassinate sathya sai baba, and that this is well-known to the civil and Puttarparthi authorities. Perhaps now that peace talks (which India supports but will not agree to take part in) are going on between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Eelam, there may be a cooling off with regard to this threat.
However, both these situations (and maybe others that one doesn't get to hear about) do suggest that Puttaparthi/Whitefield is well-embedded in some terrorist minds, does it not? I have sometimes thought that there may be less than divine intervention in the way in which the Naxalites and other terrorist forces (so prevalent in Andhra Pradesh) never seem to bother the Puttaparthi ashram.
In matters like this - as you say, of "serious concern" - I will do everything I can to alert people of the danger, even if my article of four days ago on
(and also sent down many other channels) may shock some sensibilities on both devotee and former devotee sides. Better to be shocked off than knocked off.
Would it help to post this exchange between you and me on any of your discussion Boards and/or Sai Critic website? (My email email@example.com address is publicly accessible and I have deleted the other email address which appeared below).
As always, Love from the other side of the Great Divide,