The aspect that you identify as to what Maharaji said in the early days and how he is acting now is I think very important. In fact I think Maharaji is being quite deliberate in how he is acting now and reflects what he said in the past. Basically I think he is trying to square an impossible circle. By appearing on the world stage (well at least trying to be on the world stage) he is trying to placate his earlier followers by gaining what many think is his rightful place on the world stage. After all if he is the supremely endowed one (in the sense of being God treading on this planet) then appearing in front of United Nations symbols really is the correct and rightful thing to happen. It is almost as if he is, at last, achieving what people dimly think he promised.
For new people, who do not have the baggage of the 1970s/1980s memories, what they are presented with is a apparant successful person being invited to prestigious events, donating monies to worthy causes, selling pictures and artifacts to create more money for worthy causes. And, yes, I would guess at first glance there will be people who think "Hmmm, maybe there is something here I should check out?". However it is mostly doomed to failure as for the most part Maharaji is propagating himself through the very same medium that the 'alternative' view of him is presented, namely the internet. Any curious person simply has to type in Prem Rawat in a friendly google search engine and on the very first page about half of the results link to this 'alternative' view.
Any real world leader or someone with a unique 'message of peace' would not need to so obviously have to package themselves in the way that Rawat does. Essentially Prem Rawat is all packaging and no real content.