Noteworthy News and Analysis from Around the World

In-Depth Coverage of Issues Concerning the Global Sikh Community Including Self-Determination, Democracy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Antiracism, Religion, and South Asian Geopolitics

Home | News Analysis Archive | Biographies | Book Reviews | Events | Photos | Links | About Us | Contact Us

Fremont Gurdwara Elects New Leadership

The Fremont gurdwara is the second-largest in the U.S. The San Jose Mercury News reported on January 8, "In Sunday's election, 11 candidates will vie for five positions on the prestigious council, which helps create community programs and determines how money is spent. . . . Sadh Sangat is putting forth the first woman - Gurbux Kaur Khalom [Kahlon?] - to run for Supreme Council in Fremont Sikh temple history. An economist who lives in El Sobrante, Khalom decided to run to end temple acrimony." Broadly speaking, the Sadh Sangat platform represents the current incumbents, who staged a coup in 1996 and refused to hold proper elections thereafter, whereas the Panthak platform represents the challengers, who were ousted as a result of the 1996 coup. Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal, a member of the winning ticket, is senior software engineer at Sun Microsystems. His father, Jit Singh Bainiwal, was founding president of the San Jose gurdwara in 1985.

The San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 14, 2005

Photo: Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal

Results announced, ending controversy that began in 2002

Five Sikh men on Thursday were elected temple leaders of the Fremont Gurdwara Sahib - or Sikh temple - after a three-year legal battle. The new members of the Supreme Council cried tears of joy before stepping out of their shoes, as is proper in Sikh tradition, to pray in the hallway thanking God.

The results were announced in a courtroom in Hayward, where armed bailiffs and Fremont police looked on, there to make sure none of the violence that has marked Sikh elections in previous years would erupt.

The count proceeded peacefully, but only the winning side was there to hear the results.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion stemming from Punjab in northern India, where the men are recognized by their distinctive turbans.

Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal, one of the winners, expressed his happiness.

'The congregation has given the word that they want a change,' he said. 'Our manifesto is to bring the community together, where people feel safe to pray. People are just sick and tired of hearing the problems in Fremont. It affects the entire Sikh image in California.'

The Supreme Council controls both the microphone and purse strings. The council will now appoint an 11-member executive committee to lead membership drives, pay the bills, and develop new community programs.

Thursday's announcement in the courtroom of Alameda County Judge Julia Spain caps a chapter in a saga that began in 2002. Citing a violation in the California business code requiring that a board of directors be democratically elected, seven Sikhs filed suit against the then-Supreme Council.

That council was voted into power in 1996, but Spain ruled that since there had been no elections since that time, they held power illegally.

To ensure a smooth process, Spain appointed M.O. Sabraw, a retired appeals court justice, to oversee the election. Votes were cast Sunday at the Fremont Sikh temple, a magnificent domed structure set at the foot of the East Bay hills.

The following day, a little more than 4,000 votes were counted by the League of Women Voters at the Fremont Police Department. In addition to Bainiwal, the winners were Ram Singh, Tara Gill, Davinder Chana and Kuljeet Singh, all members of the Panthak, or Sikh Nation platform.

No one from the Sadh Sangat, or Holy Congregation, slate was in court to hear the results. Bhajan Bhinder, an insurance agent who sided with the losing camp, said a rumor had circulated that his allies had lost.

In an interview, Bhinder congratulated the other side, and noted how Al Gore and John Kerry have had to get along with George Bush. 'The people have spoken and we have to respect that,' he said.