Moderates fight to retain power at Sikh temple
It is an issue that has created deep divisions and resulted in violence within British Columbia's Sikh community in the past. Now, more than a decade later, the debate over tables and chairs once again threatens to open up old wounds.
That was the scenario Sunday as members of the Guru Nanak Sikh temple in Surrey voted for a new executive that will run one of the largest temples of its kind in Canada.
The election itself has become a power struggle between two groups of moderate Sikhs and a third slate called Sikh Youth, who are regarded as more traditional. The voting process is being closely watched because it has been mired by violence in the past.
One of the most contentious issues has been the use of tables and chairs in the communal dining area, a place meant to promote equality.
"The idea was that anybody irrespective of their caste color or creed sits together," said Harpreet Singh, a host with Radio India.
Ten years ago, a high priest called for the furniture to be removed, causing friction between moderate and more traditional Sikhs. The clashes reached a point where police were stationed at temples to keep the peace.
"Things have changed. I'm not expecting anything like that to happen," said Balwant Singh Gill, who is regarded as a moderate and is seeking re-election after serving as temple president for the past decade.
His former slate member Sadhu Singh Samra is running against him.
"You have more competition, it's better for the community, better for the executive," said Gill.
Randheer Singh represents a third slate called Sikh youth, which is seen as more traditional.
Singh says that if elected, his group will follow the edict to remove the tables, while making arrangements for seniors and others who may not be able to sit on the floor.
"We're a new generation and we're hoping we can just put the whole community together again. And you know, move past this issue of the tables and chairs," said Randheer Singh.
Radio India's Harpreet Singh with radio India says the bigger issue in this election -- is the split within the moderate camp -- and what it may mean for the future of the temple.
"It's a close contest, anything can happen,'' he said.
With a report by CTV British Columbia's Maria Weisgarber.