Thousands of Sikhs braved pouring rain and howling winds Sunday night to cast their vote in a pivotal election that will decide the leadership and direction of North America’s second largest Sikh temple.
Published: November 16, 2009 1:00 AM Updated: November 16, 2009 1:39 AM
Preliminary results show members of the Guru Nanak Sikh temple in Surrey appear to have opted for change, voting in the Sikh Youth slate led by Bikramjit Singh Sandhar and voting out the group led by Harjinder Singh (“Thana”) Cheema that has controlled the second-largest gurdwara in North America (after the Ross Street Temple in Vancouver) for over a decade.
Unofficial results of the Sunday vote were posted online early Monday morning showing 13,000 ballots were cast for Sikh Youth, and 7,000 for the Cheema slate.
It was the second victory for the youth slate. Last year, they defeated the incumbents when rivals Balwant Singh Gill, the then-president, and board member Sadhu Singh Samra ran separate campaigns and split the vote.
As a result, the upstart Sikh Youth slate won with 5,900 votes, beating the group led by Gill, which came in second with 4,747 votes, while the slate led by Samra was third with 3,947 votes.
Of the roughly 21,000 temple members who were eligible to vote, 14,594 participated. The newly elected board of directors appeared ready to revisit a bitter controversy over the use of chairs and tables in the communal dining area of the temple.
The incoming president, Amardeep Singh, said the temple would obey the religion's highest authorities who believe community meals should be consumed sitting on the floor to show humility and keep everyone on the same level.
However, "accommodations" – seats and tables – would be allowed for people too old or ill to sit on the floor.
It was that issue that led to a violent clash at the Guru Nanak temple in 1997 and the departure of many followers who founded a rival temple, the Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar. It also resulted in the excommunication of Gill and five others by religious authorities in India.
The debate was not revived, however, because of a legal challenge launched by the losers of the 2008 vote, who accused the winning slate of using improperly filled-out nomination forms.
Given a choice between holding another election at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, or a drawn-out and expensive court fight over the November 2008 results, the rival groups reached an agreement to hold a second vote at the Scott Road gurdwara on Nov. 15.