Nicolas Maduro: next VIP Sai Disciple who does not lead by Example

Recently, President Chavez of Venezuela succumbed to cancer. Several months prior to his death Chavez appointed Nicolas Maduro, his long time Minister of Foreign Affairs, as his future successor.

Nicolas Maduro, interim President of Venezuela
Nicolas Maduro, interim President of Venezuela

Strange though it may seem, it is a known fact that now acting President Maduro is a fervent devotee of the late Sathya Sai Baba. Many refer to Maduro as an inconsequential puppet of Chavez, a former bus driver, but this does him no justice. Maduro is a descendant of the very influential Maduro clan, who hold positions of power in Central and South America, and have done so for decades. He is a well-educated and well-connected man, though he makes it increasingly hard to believe the former, judging by his recent rhetoric. In his announcement of the demise of former president and despot Hugo Chavez, for instance, Maduro (meaning ‘the mature’) ranted against the United States and accused the West of poisoning Chavez with cancer. A year earlier, he called his political opponents ‘big faggots’, something no one would expect from a man who is widely considered a thoughtful pragmatist. But then, birds of a feather flock together, do they not? Maduro was handpicked by Chavez and Chavez himself was not unlike Sai Baba in his latter days, come to think of it. Both advocated very outlandish ideas, to say the least. Chavez e.g. suggested in public that ‘the civilization of Mars had been destroyed by capitalism’. Doesn’t this sound as abstruse as Sai Baba’s declaration that he was himself an enormous magnet or that he would lift mountain ranges? Maduro and his wife did visit Puttaparthi in 2005, as Robert Priddy mentioned in his blog of March 19 (Sai Baba was visited in 2005 by Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela), and is publicized widely and uncritically in India and in western newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post).

In this photo mr. Maduro can be seen during his ‘private’ interview with his Late Greatness. Opposite him sits his wife Cilia Flores, an influential lawyer.

Sai Baba 'inner'views Nicolas Maduro and family (2005)
Sai Baba ‘inner’views Nicolas Maduro and family (2005)

The orange-clad guru looks decidedly masklike to me, inane, near-dead, like he increasingly did during the last ten years of his ‘reign’.

Talking of power brokers and outlandish ideas, Maduro, the Incumbent, has made headlines again two days ago. It seems he has cursed, yes CURSED all those who do not vote for him in the upcoming elections: so much for walk your talk, and help ever, hurt never!

Read and shiver! This piece was published on ITV News.

Venezuela acting president threatens curse on election

Last updated Sun 7 Apr 2013

Self-aggrandizing gesturing by presidential candidate Maduro during an election rally

Venezuelan acting president Nicolas Maduro has said a centuries-old curse would fall on the heads of those who do not vote for him in next week’s election to pick a successor to late leader Hugo Chavez.

Maduro’s invocation of the “curse of Macarapana” was the latest twist in an increasingly surreal fight between him and opposition leader Henrique Capriles for control of the South American OPEC nation of 29 million people.

“If anyone among the people votes against Nicolas Maduro, he is voting against himself, and the curse of Macarapana is falling on him,” said Maduro, referring to the 16th-century Battle of Macarapana when Spanish colonial fighters massacred local Indian forces.

This kind op political browbeating puts him in a league with people like russian Prime minister Putin, who visited the Netherlands yesterday, only to be met with the largest pro-gay demonstration he has ever witnessed (You could almost hear him mumbling: ‘Big faggots!’).

In earnest, if this is the kind of man who calls himself a devotee of the Sai Baba movement, he is the latest in a pitiful yet long line of both Indian and foreign VIPS who, for their own intents and purposes, coveted the now deceased saffronwearing, bushyhaired guru from Parthi.

A Trip down Memory Lane

In a previous blog of mine, Pray tell: can a dead guru answer prayers?, dated January 25 of last year (i.e. 2012), I described developments during the last three decades of Sathya Sai Baba’s ‘ministry’ like this:

Because of the ever-increasing unavailability of direct contact with Sathya Sai Baba over the previous decades, which was the inevitable result of the sheer increase in numbers of visitors to the ashram and the very limited amount of time the master provided for interaction with them (twice a day for maybe twenty minutes darshan, plus the rare interview, accosted to the ‘happy’ few), large groups of devotees resorted more and more to indirect ‘proof’, whether through prayer, dreams, premonitions, contact with VIP-devotee-clearvoyants like Phyllis Krystal, and other, sometimes all-too-primitive supposed channelers and channelings of the master…
Being unavailable is one of the devices cult leaders use in order to gain an ever-increasing aura among their believers, by the way. Especially when their followers are cooped up in primitive dwellings, and are deprived of contact with the outside world their whole day revolves around the master. Not seeing him, not being able to come into close, personal contact with him, makes people anxious, which in turn serves as an incentive to listen to tall tales and boosting the master’s omnipotence through any number of stories heard through the grapevine. It also hides the master quite effectively from any altogether too inquisitive a view from people who are a bit more sceptical.
If a master at all, Sathya Sai Baba certainly was one in this respect! He pulled off the most unlikely feat: not letting himself get caught for the massive fraud, deception and abuse he was involved in during sixty odd years. Instead, he managed to achieve an enormous following and influence the world over, culminating in a state funeral, with full honours, and very few awkward questions asked even after his demise.

The situation in the early eighties

Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi

During my first visit to Sai Baba, in 1981, although crowds were already gathering from all around the globe, still, at times Puttaparthi was a relatively peaceful and quiet place, with little more than 4 to 6 rows on the men’s side and little to no security in place.

Sweeping the holy sand in front of the temple, August 1981
Sweeping the holy sand in front of the temple, 1981

As can be gleaned from these photographs, which were taken by me, it was fully possible to take pictures freely and without interference from overly zealous Seva Dal-members.

Sai Baba exiting the mandir
Sai Baba exiting the mandir

It was also fine to shoot film footage and have a recording device in the mandir, to tape the bhajan singing. The only thing you were not allowed to do was to carry a tape recording device into the interview room (which I did manage to do on one occasion, by the way). With a little luck, the dreariness of the day was interrupted by three appearances of a still brisk and healthy looking Master (morning darshan, evening darshan, bhajans in the mandir, Sai Baba sitting in front), sometimes even more (see e.g. the darshan from the balcony).

Darshan from above, on the balcony.
Darshan from above, on the balcony

Although you had to wait in line-up already, and then sit for hours on end, at least you could have an inkling of  hope to get some close and personal contact. Also, the grouping together of devotees from the same country was not implemented yet: this happened a few years later, when the guidelines became yet more uniform. If Sai Baba went away for a couple of hours, to visit his elephant Sai Gita or one of the nearby schools or colleges, you stood a fair chance to suddenly meet him up front or in his car: it happened to me on several occasions, and was regarded as very auspicious, of course.

77. Close up men's side, garage being built in background, 1981 001a
Close up men’s side, garage being built in background, 1981

Mind you, this was 12 years before the infamous killing of four intruders in his private quarters, in June 1993, after which the all-powerful master felt the need to protect himself with trained bodyguards, and more and more restrictions were put in place to limit his personal risk. This inevitably meant that devotees were confronted with ever-increasing security measures. Personally, I had had quite enough of ashram life, by then. Even in the period I visited Sai Baba, especially Prasanthi Nilayam felt more like a concentration camp than an abode of peace. Devotees misbehaved, staff even more, corruption and favoritism were rife, living conditions were very poor yet everyone, myself included, seemed to not want to see what was so blatantly obvious: that Sai Baba was an uneducated but highly enigmatic con man, prone to mood swings (boy, did I see him become angry at times!) and megalomaniac ideas.

Brindavan, Whitefield

If Sai Baba stayed at his annex, in Whitefield, just outside Bangalore, which he did not do very often, the situation was quite similar. A few hundred devotees came to see him twice a day, when he walked out of his private quarters (Trayee Brindavan) towards the old mandir under the large banyan tree. There, everyone had gathered in a circle, the women on one side, the men on the other. He would walk around, take letters, talk to some people and go sit in an elevated chair, where he ‘kept the beat’ of the bhajans. Interviews were rare, more so than in Puttaparthi.

Devotees gathering in Brindavan, Whitefield
Devotees gathering before darshan in Brindavan, Whitefield (1981)

Many devotees liked the location, though. Firstly, you could stay in a hotel in the city, and commute easily. This was far less oppressive than staying in Prasanthi Nilayam, where virtually everything was regulated or forbidden: no talking, no loitering outside the hallowed grounds. Escaping this environment was next to impossible because housing and food shops outside the ashram were still virtually non-existent. A second reason why many preferred the atmosphere in Whitefield was the illusion of closeness, simply because Sai Baba got a bit nearer to everyone present.

44. A closer view of SB giving darshan, Brindavan, 1981 001
Darshan under the old canopy in Whitefield