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Incumbents Win Fremont Gurdwara Elections

Last year's supreme council was: Ram Singh, Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal, Kuljeet Singh, Tara Singh Gill, and Davinder Singh Chana. Gurcharan Singh Mann replaced Davinder Singh Chana on this year's supreme council. A press release issued today by the new leadership team stated that the opposition group United Sikhs Alliance was supported by the Sikh Youth of America (S.Y.A.), the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (A.G.P.C.), both led by Yadwinder Singh, and the Khalistan Affairs Center, led by Amarjit Singh. The press release blamed the S.Y.A./A.G.P.C./K.A.C. combine for sponsoring violence in gurdwaras across America.

The Daily Review, Fremont, California, Jan. 11, 2006

Photo: Fremont gurdwara leadership 2006 (front row, left to right): Kuljeet Singh, Gurcharan Singh Mann, Ram Singh, Tara Singh Gill, and Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal

Thousands of members of the Gurdwara Sahib of the San Francisco Bay Area appeared to overwhelmingly re-elect a slate of leaders of the Sikh Temple in its second formal election in two years, according to independent monitors.

David Kadlecek, a volunteer with the Californians for Electoral Reform, said preliminary results from Sunday's election indicated that four of the five members of the supreme council had won re-election to set policy, appoint leaders, and govern the temple.

Kadlecek said it was less clear whether the temple's current leaders had received 75 percent of the votes necessary to amend the temple's constitution to implement term limits for its officers and mandatory elections every two years.

But this year's election was relatively free of the turmoil that had plagued the temple in past years, which led to a lawsuit and court-ordered elections after a judge determined in 2002 that five of the temple's leaders held office illegally.

'Things went relatively calmly. . . . It wasn't perfect, but nothing ever is,' said Kadlecek, referring to some initial problems with candidates campaigning in the grounds of the temple. 'We haven't heard of any complaints.'

Fremont resident Trilochan Singh Dosanjh, who ran as part of the opposition group, the United Sikhs Alliance, said he was disappointed by the election of a more 'conservative' slate.

As a member of Alliance, Dosanjh said he opposed the platform of the Panthic slate prohibiting unbaptized and clean-shaven Sikhs from serving on the supreme council.

But he did not dispute the results.

'I have no intention of leaving,' Dosanjh said. 'I will continue to go to worship there.'

Ram Singh, an elected leader with the Panthic slate, said he hoped the election would help create stability and allow the temple to expand its services for preschool children and seniors.

'I hope we can begin to work together,' Singh said. 'We have no ill will against our opponents or those who voted against us. We are all Sikhs of the same Guru.'

Singh said he believed the temple had 75 percent of the votes necessary to amend the constitution to ensure that no supreme council member 'would be elected for life.'

He added that unbaptized, clean-shaven Sikhs, as well as those who do not wear turbans, still would be allowed to serve on the executive committee as long as they were not in leadership positions.

'Those people (in leadership positions) represent our community,' Singh said. 'They should look like Sikhs. It is part of our identity.'

Sarabjit Cheema, a supporter of the newly elected council, said the election reaffirms the direction of the Sikh temple and will allow its current leadership to increase its outreach to the community.

Although the election was relatively peaceful, it was not without tension.

In the lead-up, accusations arose over the $1.5 million purchase of a house and 100-acre piece of land in the Fremont hills by the supreme council.

While proponents of the purchase said it would allow the temple to expand recreational services for its youth, opponents charged that it was a waste of money because the temple could not build on most of the hilly land.

Dosanjh also charged that leaders of the temple had pushed the idea of Khalistan, an independent nation that would be carved out of parts of Punjab in India and Pakistan, on the temple's youth.

During the campaign, he accused the current leaders of extremism, which he said had backfired against Alliance in the vote.

Singh said the temple does encourage its members to sympathize with Sikhs in Punjab and elsewhere who are treated as second-class citizens or who have suffered human rights violations.

'But we are in no way extremists,' Singh said.

More than 3,200 people voted in the election, according to unofficial results. Volunteers for Californians for Electoral Reform were expected to recount ballots Saturday and certify the results Sunday.

The Gurdwara Sahib temple is the spiritual, political and economic hub for some 8,000 members of Alameda County Sikh community. It is the largest and wealthiest of the local Sikh temples, sitting on land valued at close to $10 million, according to its leaders.

Sikhism began roughly 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India. It is based on the teachings of 10 Gurus and its holy scriptures.

Recently, the Fremont temple was active in providing emergency donations to victims of hurricane Katrina and last year's Indian Ocean tsunami, and its members protested the French government's decision to ban religious insignias in schools.