Sai Baba and the News Media
How Sathya Sai Baba and his officials reacted to the press inquiries into the 1993 murders

A section of the journalistic community world-wide has been writing against Sathya Sai Baba (SSB) on a variety of very serious counts. He avoided replying to all such criticisms and refused to answer investigative questions and scrutiny, as his officials always have done, and this applies with at least equal force to those devotees who block channels of information and practise secrecy in affairs that affect many people and the general public. Censorship of negative facts as stringently practised throughout SSB's institutions and self-censorship has been officially accepted by Indian authorities. Worse still, most Indian journalism long appeared to be totally enamoured of SSB, seeing only his visible projects and his talking up of Indian values etc, but failing completely in proper inquiry into the many allegations from all over the world, or into by what means SSB became socially invulnerable in India. He attacked journalists verbally in public on some occasions when they were only trying to do their job, especially Andhra Pradesh journalists after the murder spree at his ashram in 1993. SSB's has shown his ability in getting criminal investigations quashed by police, the judiciary, and government Ministers. This sent a very powerful warning shot across the bows of any Indian investigative journalists.

In a discourse a month or so after the six 1993 killings and executions, Sathya Sai Baba attacked the media hotly saying, “all arguments and theories carried in the newspapers for the past four weeks are nothing but flights of the imagination and are false” (quote) calling such reports ‘motivated’ and ‘malicious’.

Scribes seek probe into Baba criticism by press council 

From: Express News Service. Anantapur. July, 1993

Anantapur District Journalists' Union (ADJU) at its emergent meeting here on Monday passed an unanimous resolution requesting the Press Council of India to inquire into the criticism of Sri Sathya Sai Baba against the Press for publishing news items and special articles on the June 6 incident that occurred in Prashanthi Nilayam in which six persons were killed.
It may be recalled that Sai Baba in a scathing attack on the media on Saturday said, "all arguments and theories carried in the newspapers for the past four weeks are nothing but flights of imagination and are false." Baba also said such reports were motivated and called them "malicious".
The meeting adopted an unanimous resolution "disapproving" of the Baba's criticism against the media and sought the Press Council's intervention to inquire and take action if the journalists had acted with any "malice".
Besides the meeting also posed some questions to Sai Baba requesting him to give personal replies.

The questions asked are:

When six persons were killed in Prashanthi Nilayam why none from the Prashanthi Nilayam organisation had lodged a complaint with the police?
Where was Sri Baba after the incident on June 6 till the next morning? During the period who met him and what did they discuss with him. Did Sai Baba himself press the siren button?
There is a widespread opinion that the four slain assailants were shot dead by the police only at the instance of some persons belonging to the Prashanthi Nilayam management. How far is it correct?
Why was the Sri Sathya Sai World Trust abolished? Why was it decentralised?
Will you publish a White Paper on the present properties, including cash assets in the name of various Sri Sai Trusts?

Comment by Robert Priddy:

The Press Council did not condemn any Anantapur journalists. Sai Baba did not deign to answer a single question put to him. Questions about the incident were brushed aside by harassed ashram officials, and written instructions were sent out from top Sathya Sai Organization officials not to question or discuss anything about it but rather to concentrate on oneself and one’s own spiritual practice.
He was never questioned about his role in the incident by the police, the CBI nor anyone else.  What, then is the answer to the questions put to SB by the Anantapur District Journalists' Union?

Sathya Sai Baba has never dared to give any answer to their questions. One truthful answer he could not risk giving was that his (Sai Baba’s) younger brother Janakiramiah - along with Sathya Sai Central Trust and ashram leaders - blackmailed the police into shooting down the trapped intruders. It was also reported in the press and from eyewitnesses that he himself had said 'They are now bound up, so kill them') See also here

Everyone involved in the murders and cover-up were able to remain as silent as clams about what really happened, no official in the whole of India was able to question Sathya Sai Baba, except in secrecy and without permission to report at best. None of the injured parties were able to raise any court case against the murderous police or the ashram officials who were involved. The Sai-devoted Vajpayee Government insured that the entire CBI investigation, which they had suspended by order when it was nearing a conclusion, was buried.

The Indian press was clearly cowed by his demonstrated political power, an indictment of India's press freedom. That this is so is shown by their neglect of any mention of the Public Petition for Official Investigations of SSB and His Worldwide Organization Petition, of which they were well-informed. The petition was most embarrassing for SSB since it was eventually signed by ca. over 1500 persons, including many ex-devotees and leaders of the Sai Org., a fair number of very long standing. The lack of openness and democratic accountability wa and is still common to most Indian public life, where huge scams have been exposed at top levels only for the exposers to be out-manoeuvred and beaten down by power interests.

A month after the six 1993 killings/murders, SSB attacked the media scathingly in a discourse saying, "all arguments and theories carried in the newspapers for the past four weeks are nothing but flights of the imagination and are false" (Discourse by SB in July 1993, Guru Poornima day) calling such reports 'motivated' and 'malicious'. He was then publicly asked to clear doubts by the Anantapur District Journalists' Union, who responded by asking him:
1) Where he was after the incident on June 6 till the next morning?
2) During the period, who met him and what did they discuss with him? Did SSB himself press the siren button?
3) There is a widespread opinion that the four slain assailants were shot dead by the police only at the instance of some persons belonging to the Prashanti Nilayam management, how far is it correct?

Sathya Sai Baba did not reply to any of these questions. Questions about the incident were brushed aside by harassed ashram officials, and written instructions were sent out from top Sai Org. officials not to question or discuss anything about it but rather to concentrate on oneself and one's own spiritual practice. SSB himself was able to remain as silent as a clam about what really happened, no official in the whole of India was able to question him, except trusted persons in secrecy (such as devotee Home Minister S.B. Chavan), at best. There is still much to be said for as positive an approach as possible, for it can awaken us to good things that have been overlooked, and can be an inspiring stimulant to goodness. Yet when it becomes a virtual rule of law, as by SSB's 'divine' command, the other side of the coin soon becomes dark and threatening.

A self-sacrificing organisation like Amnesty International, which often risks much to bring huge injustices to the notice of an otherwise unknowing and uncaring world, and aims to influence the perpetrators, can only be said to be constructive and positive in outlook, despite the depressing nature of the 'news' it spreads. This is surely an example of seeing, hearing, speaking and doing good... even though it criticises and challenges killers, tyrants, corruption and many other oppressive and negative forces. Sathya Sai Baba was definitely not in favour of this, he said he wanted everything to be described always through rose-coloured glasses for one should 'See, hear, speak no evil' etc. He made crystal clear how much he disliked defence of human rights and wanted instead to enforce a regime of imprinting 'human duties' instead.

"Today's newspaper is tomorrow's wastepaper", said Sai Baba (doubtless taking over yet another English phrase suggested to him by his former 'ghost writer' and spin doctor, Prof. N. Kasturi), and always advised that we concentrate on what is good, not what is bad in other people. Some of the press scavenges the rubbish bins for sensation, recycling whatever hearsay may boost circulation. On this problem, in his first newspaper interview in 25 years, SSB told some journalists from Mumbai in 1999, including S. Balakrishnan, that the newspapers should be more careful and responsible, while publishing of senseless and baseless news must be avoided, especially of those at the helm of affairs of the country since it has a lot of repercussions abroad. Doubts should be cleared after free and frank discussions with the persons concerned, he said, and truth should not be compromised under any circumstances. However, concerning himself and all events around him that do not agree with what he told, he was mute, as were all his lackeys too. While he carefully concealed his own involvements, he was vociferously outspoken against anybody writing anything critical concerning him. This was seen particularly in his discourse in July 1993 about the role of the press in reporting on the murders that took place under his nose, and later in a public discourse at Christmas, 2000, where he condemned his accusers and critics the strongest possible terms, threatening anyone who did so with what amounts to eternal damnation! Yet he impudently claimed to be the One God of Love, the Father who sent Jesus Christ on his mission of forgiveness!

Sathya Sai Baba and his publicists tried constantly to erase all traces of any unfortunate events, but such matters have a way of festering and growing the more when denied. His blind policy of ignoring everything that is not positive would make most human communication impossible, for there is always someone who will feel harmed by almost any truth. Self-contradictorily, Sai Baba himself constantly described and condemned ills and ill-doers in general and sweeping terms, both of Indian and world society... and in words very far from rosy. His public attacks are not usually made against named persons, but they are increasingly made against persons who can easily be identified nevertheless. In a discourse full of contradictions and complaints on 19 January 2002, Sathya Sai Baba discussed the press as follows:

"Whatever paper one is from, write exactly what has happened. It is not wrong. They bring in what has not happened at all and put that in the paper. Only when non-existent and amazing things are put in, they will get more money. Just write exactly what happens. If it is a wrong, write it as a wrong. If there is good, write it as good. Only that; but don't mix in what isn't there." (Comment: What happens to his own recommendation to say only what is good?) "I am 76 years old. Up till now I have not met with any newspaperman or TV people. (Applause) I don't have any relationship with papers at all. For, if good is spoken, without fail friendship can be made with them. But they write contradictory things." (Comment: There are several well-known interviews SSB gave to press people, including Mr. Karanjia of 'Blitz Magazine'. And SSB constantly speaks in a very contradictory way. Also he previously mentioned specifically two newspapers which wrote "exactly what has happened)".

A report on his behaviour in one of his journals stated: "He came with a pistol near Me. They saw it."(Swami's voice imitates in a taunting way the sound of people gossiping:) What lies, just tell! (Laughter) (Swami's voice turns louder, accusing and strong:) Was there even one newspaperman there? Who saw? (Swami pounds the table saying:) Why should anyone tell such untruths? No one came at all! Finally, we see that pistol is a gas (air) pistol, used only to shoot birds. When all of it is like this, why such big publicity? This is a BIG mistake." (Comment: Why was it such a big mistake if - as mentioned before - "nothing happened". If that was so, why such a strong reaction?) "Let the paper men think anything. I don't get anything out of the newspaper. My paper - my heart only is My paper. From My heart, there is so much Love only: only Love, only Love. (Applause) So I am sharing that Love. Let it be anyone at all: I will share it with all. All are Mine. I belong to all. I don't have hatred for anyone. All have only Love for Me. I have Love for everybody. Therefore, Love is the close relationship between both of us." (Comment: Is SSB sharing his "love" with the newspapermen?) "Suffering was given to the hearts of how many people? The journalists have succumbed to so much sin! From so many places - America, Germany, Japan, England, telegrams came from all directions. Therefore, none should succumb to so much jealousy." (Does this suggest that so many people do not really believe in SSB's "infallibility"? Why did he make such a fuss when a simple clarification is all that was needed, rather than a whole public discourse to be widely published? Did SSB really think that journalists whose job it is to follow up news for clarification all suffer from jealousy?)

There was despite all a clear dislike evident in Sai Baba for any non-partisan report about himself, especially when anything untoward occurs at his ashrams. The incident in this case was a bagatelle, but it is far from being this innocent always!

An independent Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh wrote the following report 1993 after the murder episode, referring apparently to a title of Professor Paul Ruhela ('Heaven Can Wait'):-

Heaven can wait

Puttaparthi, in 1990, he had broken his silence on political matters and commented on the mandir-masjidlaagle. "When Ram is in everyone's hearts," he is supposed to have said, "what is the need for a temple?" This, it is believed, may have placed him on the hit-list of fundamentalist Hindus.

It is perhaps this realisation that led to the swami keeping a very low profile of late. At times, it almost seemed as if he was deliberately distancing himself from the current political situation in the country.

The recent assassination attempt has, however, yanked him back into the spotlight. And the attendant publicity has been far from favourable; most press reports have suggested that bitter factional fights within the ashram led to the recent violent attack by some devotees, who thought they were being pusher out of the Baba's charmed circle.

But even before media investigations into the controversy could get underway, a veil of secrecy was drawn around the Puttaparthi ashram. And with such political luminaries as home minister S.B. Chavan joining the damage-control squad, there is little likelihood that the complete story of the assassination attempt on the swami will ever be told.

The truth will, as always, remain an elusive commodity where Sai Baba is concerned, even as the godman's myth endures. -

Gauri Lankesh/Puttaparthi. SUNDAY, 20-26.JUNE 1993

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