Sikh traditionalists turn tables on modernists in Surrey temple election

Sikh Youth slate flyer.

By Salim Jiwa

SURREY, B.C. – (Update) Members of the Sikh community in Surrey chose long-standing religious tradition over modernists and elected a temple executive slate which has promised to remove table and chairs from the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple. The margin of victory was massive, almost two to one, with the traditionalists getting over 13,400 votes.

Traditionalists turned the tables on the modernist slate that had ruled the temple for more than a decade in a landslide victory. The final outcome of the vote was 13, 458 for the traditionalist Sikh youth slate and approximately 7,257  for the old guard.

The temple, second largest in North America,  was controlled by modernists for the longest period of time and tables and chairs filled the dining hall where meals are served free to all worshipers and anyone else who wants them. In the  90s violence erupted and tempers flared over the issue of tables and chairs in the “langar” (dining) hall.

Bikramjit Singh Sandhar is new president.

Bikramjit Singh Sandhar is new president.

The Sikh Youth slate led by Bikramjit Sandher handily defeated the modernists during the court supervised elections where observers counted some 20,000 ballots cast by Sikhs who braved long lineups to vote.

The election result was announced shortly before 2 a.m. on Monday.

“With an almost 2:1 ratio of votes for the youth, the Sikh community has loudly indicated their desire for a positive change,” the victors said.

“Large, energized crowds gathered throughout Surrey late Sunday night into Monday morning, letting out a collective sigh of relief when reports circulated that the Youth slate was victorious. As the news sunk in, people from all political backgrounds flooded the Youth campaign office with congratulatory phone calls,” the youth group said in a press release.

 “The time for change has come. The sangat (c0mmunity of worshippers) has spoken loud and clear: they want Gurdwara management that speaks to the real issues our community is facing today,” the newly elected president Bikramjit Sandhar.

“We must all join together to save our children from drugs and gangs, to provide support and equality to women, and to ensure the best services for our seniors. We must renew our mission to serve all of humanity now that we are united,” said Gurnam Sanghera, a supporter of the former slate.
“We lost. There was a voter shift – our own voters shifted. We accept it, is the decision of the community.”

“Whatever the verdict, we accept it,” said Sanghera about the reaction of long-time temple president Balwant Singh Gill who could not be reached for comment early Monday morning.

Some in the community view the Sikh Youth with suspicion – saying they are separatists who cling to the dream of creating a Sikh republic out of the state of Punjab where the vast majority of the world’s 30 million Sikhs live.

However, the Sikh Youth slate says it is made up of progressive Sikhs, many of whom are professionals,  who want to return the temple to the traditions followed by Sikhs world-wide.

“The Sikh Community of British Columbia has spoken loudly in favour of a positive change for a better future, by awarding the directorship service at Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Gurdwara Sahib, Surrey, BC to the Sikh Youth Slate, by a large margin of votes,” the Sikh Youth slate said on its website www.newfuture.ca.

“This service is done by the grace of God, for the well-being of humanity. Thank you to all those who supported this campaign, and all those who volunteered countless hours to make this change happen. Now, the real work begins.”

While the simplistic view can be the divide over tables and chairs, the issues are deeper within the community. There has been a sense that religious obligations and service to the community has suffered.

But some of the change is seen to have been motivated by long-standing bitterness over how the media has covered the community’s traditionalists  with labels such as fundamentalists, or even extremists. While the parties that supported the basic values of the Sikh faith were labeled fundamentalists, the other side was automatically called moderate.

Much of the labeling in the mainstream media was a left over from the bitter 1980s when a Sikh rebellion consumed Punjab state over the invasion of the Golden Temple and its impact on Sikhs world-wide. Sikh militancy dissipated in Canada in the early 90s and is no longer an issue.

“We will work to unite the Sikh community through open communication, transparency and community outreach bringing positive and efficient change in our approach to community relations,” said the Sikh Youth platform.

“As community divided by years of community politics, media labels, and violent conflicts, it is our duty as the next generation to move beyond these difference and work towards uniting the community. With the united strength of Sikh societies and organizations across the Lower Mainland, we can achieve greater success in addressing the needs of the community,” the slate had said.

The youth camp also was more organized, holding massive rallies at banquet halls and using social networking sites like You Tube to broadcast their message.

” Let’s take back our holy institutions and restore them to their original purpose, which was serving all humanity and helping people to become better, brighter and closer to their spiritual source,” said a campaign slogan.

It is expected the slate with Bikramjit Singh Sandhar at the helm as president will take over the temple in January. Tables and chairs will be moved out to comply with Sikh traditional values but some will be kept in the kitchen hall to allow elderly and the infirm to participate in the meals which are regarded as part of worship.

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Posted by on Nov 16 2009. Filed under Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

13 Comments for “Sikh traditionalists turn tables on modernists in Surrey temple election”

  1. inresponseto Harp

    hey Harp buddy ol pal, go cry yourself a river and float your negativity away on your beloved tables and chairs!!

  2. No matter who won, what matters to me is the ability of the winning party to bring back true sikhism. tables and chairs have no place in the temple no matter if its a moderate or traditional temple. so lets not focus on that. we need to give the youth slate time to make the changes they promised when they take charge in january, and go from there, they won fair and square.

  3. In my opinion, this is really good news. The Youth Slate was based on the right strategy, to unite Sikhs no matter what their particular level of belief. Sikhism teaches us one important fundamental; that we are all equal. It should not matter whether one is Amritdhari, Keshdhari, or Sehajdhari.

    At the same time, it is important for our community to keep the principles of Sikhism in tact. The Gurudwara is a place that should promote the basic tenants of the religion and allow one to be progressive within the religion. And this can only be done if the Gurudwara practices the principles of Sikhism.

    With regards to the talk of “fundamentalists” v. “modernists”, it is not needed in our community. We are all just plain Sikhs. We may be at different stages of spiritual learning or, in the case of some, we may decide to adopt certain principles of the religion and not adopt others. This is a personal choice and should not be criticized by anyone who understands the Sikh doctrine and recognizes the flaws in being judgment. However, the Gurudwara should live and breathe these principles and, in my humble opinion, only those that adhere to the religion can be this voice.

  4. “Some in the community view the Sikh Youth with suspicion – saying they are separatists who cling to the dream of creating a Sikh republic out of the state of Punjab where the vast majority of the world’s 30 million Sikhs live.”

    Listening to Radio India yesterday evening, a caller claimed that members of the Youth slate were chanting “Khalistan Zindabad” (Long Live Khalistan) on the 72nd/128th intersection. In reality, no such thing was occurring.

    This suspicion or fear was a part of the smear campaign led against the Sikh Youth instead of focusing on the issues.

    Aside: The classifications of fundamentalist, traditionalist, moderate, etc Sikhs will be eradicated as the time for unity is now. The sole basis of Sikhism depends on the concept of equality – no Sikh that embraces this core value should embrace any of these labels any longer and the community can finally come together and focus on what matters!

  5. I agree with Singh’s comment about how they don’t run elections at private Gurdawara, why dont they let people have a public election then. Gurdawaras have become a businesses for people not a place where we should be worshiping god. Sikh youth have continued to say that this election is not about tables and chairs when the first thing they are doing after winning the election is getting rid of tables and chairs. Why not change some of the other things around the gurdawara and leave the table and chairs as they are. The thing that really bothers me is that when it comes to weddings, the fundamentalist dont even book their own gurdawara they want to go have their children’s weddings at a gurdawara with tables and chairs. NOW whose modern?

  6. Sikh militancy dissipated in Canada in the early 90s and is no longer an issue.

    May I be so bold as to enquire as to how this opinion was formed?

    • Consider that an expert opinion on the basis of this editor’s work on Sikh issues since 1981 and with intelligence assessments and policing opinions that we’ve info about. May i be bold enough to ask your motive for asking that question? If you know of ongoing violence, or plots write to us and we’ll give you a number you can call.

    • Dissent is not illegal and does not constitute militancy.

  7. This is great. As someone born and raised in BC who drank liquor and lived the university student lifestyle, I always knew that having people leading a religious place of worship who engage in practices that go against Sikh way of life, such as drinking liquor, was a mistake and shouldn’t happen. People who in fact try to follow a Sikh way of life should be leading the Gurdwara.

    Religion and religious practice are not like some entertainment fad that changes with the times. The way of life taught by Sikhs is not just for today or yesterday, but for all times in the future as well. Certain beliefs such as equality of man/ woman, equality of all people regardless of colour/ caste, no idol worship, belief in One universal God, keeping 5ks for Khalsa etc… are non-negotiable. The person posting as “Singh” who says he’s a moderate youth would have you believe that religion is supposed to change with the whims of the time. I’d be very surprised if “Singh” even recites one of the Sikh daily prayers. Being a Sikh in name only doesn’t make you an expert in either a moral or ethical basis to start pontificating on what it means to be a Sikh and who should run a Gurdwara.

  8. This is disappointing that the moderate youth don’t take part in these elections and now the fundamental radicals, who call themselves the “youth slate”, are controlling the temple to continue brainwashing of further sikh youth, its a sad day for Canada.

    Do these fundamentalists not have enough PRIVATE temples built in Surrey? If they are so open why don’t they open up their temples for public elections??

  9. khalsa.lakhvir.singh

    this is not a win over modernism or traditionalism … this is a win of gurmat (way of truth) over manmat (way of the wayward). while i applaud this victory, i hope the new management can now educate those they won over in an amicable and humble way. the last thing we would want is the losing side to feel that they have been beaten by ‘radicals’, but rather that no one has lost. only the way of the guru has triumphed.



  11. […] Although Gurdwara elections are usually not celebratory topics, the news surrounding the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey is especially noteworthy. We have covered the topic in the past a few times and the results seem to be in (again). The Youth Slate wins (again). […]

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