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Pramukh Swami Maharaj of BAPS: An exemplar in crisis leadership

How the spiritual head of BAPS led with the tools of empathy and compassion in times of challenge

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His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj (1921-2016), Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s fifth spiritual successor, had very little formal education, leaving school after Year 6. Yet, for over 75 years as the administrative president from 1950 onwards and for 45 years (1971-2016) as the spiritual head of BAPS, his leadership skills were outstanding. He faced many make-or-break and crisis situations, and his responses were nothing short of inspiring. The following incidents illustrate his exemplary approach to critical situations.

Here are some incidents that illustrate his exemplary approach to critical situations.

EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE

The tragic events of 26 January 2001 will live long in the memory of the people of Gujarat, India. The devastating 7.7 earthquake, with its epicentre in Kutch, caused enormous and widespread damage and loss of life throughout the region.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj was in the village of Bochasan on the day. He was at breakfast when the tremors were felt at 8.46 am. Shortly thereafter, he began receiving reports about the scale and spread of the disaster. Wasting no time, he began contacting the senior sadhus at BAPS centres throughout Gujarat and especially in Bhuj, instructing them to initiate emergency relief efforts.

As a socially responsible leader, Pramukh Swami Maharaj took the initiative to direct all his available resources in the service of the needy. His continued attention to detail amid the larger picture revealed an extraordinary degree of empathy and compassion. He swiftly extended emotional, material and spiritual support to people of all backgrounds, and kept the initiative sustained for a prolonged period.

His leadership in the aftermath of this natural disaster was decisive and proactive.

THE AKSHARDHAM RESPONSE

Gandhinagar, India, 24 September 2002. At 4.45 pm on a pleasant autumn afternoon, the unimaginable happened: out of the blue, a totally unprovoked attack was made on the sacred Swaminarayan Akshardham complex by two terrorists. They raided the holy site armed with automatic rifles and deadly grenades, killing 34 innocent pilgrims and wounding many others. A team of highly trained National Security Guards, an elite counter-terrorism unit under India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, led by Brigadier Raj Seethapathy was rushed to Gandhinagar from New Delhi. After an all-night siege, and the sad loss of two heroic commandos, the terrorists were neutralised by the NSG.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj with BAPS school boys, Source: Supplied

Pramukh Swami Maharaj was 170 km away in the village of Sarangpur when news of the attack broke, busy in a series of crucial meetings with senior sadhus.

His initial response was a natural reaction to any difficulty he faced – sincere prayer. After some moments of deep contemplation, he calmly took command of the situation and marshalled his resources, while responding serenely to the flurry of phone calls from all facets of society.

Everyone was in uproar and demanded a powerful retaliation to this unprovoked attack. Yet, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was a leader of different traits – never ruffled, never rushed, always resilient and constantly reposed. He had his own way of doing things, and this crisis revealed just how much of an out-of-the-box leader he was. He personally issued a nationwide appeal for everyone to remain calm and maintain peace, and banish all thoughts of retaliation, thus preventing further social unrest.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s exemplary response was later lauded by all and became a case study as an effective and responsible handling of such a crisis. It became known as ‘The Akshardham Response.’ Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, President of India from 2002-2007, writes in his book Transcendence: My Spiritual Experiences with Pramukh Swamiji, “Pramukh Swamiji showed magnanimity by not indulging in any blame game or imputing motives. Swamiji encouraged his followers to pray, not punish.”

Pramukh Swami Maharaj had shown that forgiveness and non-violence are indeed the stepping stones to achieve world harmony.

EXEMPLARY LEADER

Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s innate ability to handle adversity naturally inspired confidence, loyalty and dedication in others.

Over the decades, he faced countless emergencies, and tricky and sensitive situations, which he expertly navigated with an unprecedented presence of mind, compassion and in the best interests of all concerned, reflecting his innate and profound spirituality.

Just like Pramukh Swami Maharaj, today, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the present spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, continues that legacy. Through his association, people have been transformed significantly to experience inner peace.

This article series aims to pay tribute to Pramukh Swami Maharaj of the BAPS movement in his birth centennial.

To learn more about Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life and work, please visit www.pramukhswami.org

READ ALSO: Pramukh Swami Maharaj: Widely honoured, yet deeply humble

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