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Fremont Gurdwara Prepares for Elections


The Argus, Nov. 26, 2002

Photo: Fremont Gurdwara

About 3,500 people have applied for membership to the Bay Area's largest and wealthiest Sikh temple, which would allow them to vote in a court-ordered election to decide leadership. However, the Jan. 12 election may be postponed up to a year because the five current leaders, or Supreme Council members, are appealing Superior Court Judge Julia Spain's Sep. 6 decision ordering the election. Spain's decision came in a lawsuit filed after a general body meeting last March, in which six men claimed to have won Supreme Council seats over the current leaders during a chaotic voice-vote election that required police supervision. The spring election was not legitimate, Spain decided, but ruled that yearly elections must dictate who sets temple policy and oversees its estimated $1 million in annual revenue.

Current leaders are appealing the court's decision largely because they believe Spain erroneously classified the temple as a corporation, not a religious institution. Religious groups should have the right to select leaders based on their beliefs, said Gurdial Singh, a current leader. That was a major point of contention throughout the five-day civil trial: Should Western-style elections be imposed, or should the religious belief that leaders be selected for life terms be protected? In her decision, Spain also ordered the temple to craft requirements for membership to the Fremont temple - or gurdwara - to prevent Sikh worshipers who live far away from influencing the outcome of elections, a factor that some say affected the outcome of the March election.

The attorney representing those in favor of elections, Mark Cohen, also wants the current leaders to post more than the $100,000 bond required by Spain to ensure that they don't spend gurdwara money, sell its assets or make significant changes to its governing bylaws. . . . One of the founding leaders, Hardev Grewal, said the bylaws allowed for such wide membership because there weren't other gurdwaras 25 years ago when the Fremont gurdwara was founded. Gurdwaras have since been established in Hayward and San Jose, among other cities. . . . During the trial, both sides seemed to agree that gurdwara bylaws need to be updated. But that can't happen until an election is held, the judge ruled.