By Dr. Hardam Singh Azad
‘HOUSTON, Texas: Much has been spoken and written about the “wrongs” in and about the Gurdwara elections in North America during the last few years. Examples have been cited where the Sangats (memberships) were used as pawns for the achievement of personal “political” gains by some “politicians”. Here is a current example that shows all is well with the annual elective processes of Gurdwaras in the U.S.A.
The Sikh Center of the Gulf Coast Area, Inc. (Houston, Texas), was created by about a dozen Sikh families in 1973. During the last 15 years, this institution has evolved into a major Sikh Center in North America. So far, this organization has nurtured and contributed to the entire Sikh Panth three internationally known Sikhs: Dr. Sukhmander Singh (First President of the Sikh Council of North America SCNA and first President of North America Akali Dal NAAD, Gen. Secretary of Nankana Sahib Foundation), and Dr. Hardam Singh Azad (V.P. & nominee for President of SCNA and President of Sikh Association of America). Other prominent Sikhs seasoned by the Houston Sikh Center are Dr. Kanwaljit Singh, Sardarni Jagdish Kaur Azad and Sardar Kewal Singh Sohal.
All these dedicated Sikhs (except Dr. Sukhmander Singh who moved to California many years ago) along with many other active ones participated in their annual general elections on January 10, 1988. Sikhs in general and these “leader types” in particular, tend to have strong views that some -Times clash. They often differ on how, when, where, how much, why or who is to do certain things. However, they hardly ever differ on whether to do the right ones. The national anthem of the Sikhs, “Deh Shiva Ver Mohe Ahae, Shubh Karman (Good Acts) Te Kabhoon Na Taraon”, embodies that wisdom, herein lies the key to the resolution of our conflicts: determine the “Shubh Karman” and develop consensus in the entire membership about them without first discussing the doers or the means and methods. Once we agree on what to do (e.g. unite the sangat, not to use the ballot box for election, build certain facilities this year, etc.), it becomes an order of magnitude easier to sell our ideas on who, how, when, where, etc. to our brethren.
Following its bylaws and tradition, the Houston Sikh Center Parbhandhak Committee appointed an Election Chairman several weeks prior to the annual general elections. The person(s) selected must have earned the reputation of being fair, experienced, and courageous and above the petty personality politics, etc. This person(s) is expected to size up all the players good and bad, their “friends” and “foes”, and shape them into a harmonious team to win on the “Subh Karman” for the entire sangat a tall order!
Like most other major Sikh Centers, Houston has no shortage of bloated egos, power blocks of family votes, rivalries based on jealous y rather than achievements, aspiration without commitment, and demand of authority, aspiration without commitment and demand of authority without assuming responsibility. So, as always, the task of the Election Chairman was most delicate. While the public show of electioneering takes no more than a few hours, the scars from this failed task can take years to heal. The ballot box disaster that hit Houston sangat in 1983 broke it in two! We may never fully recover from just that one bout of disunity. Some of “our” leaders, who caved in to the popular pressure at the time, vowed to never Jet that happen again (even though “our group”, predictably won the election by a big margin) to our sangat soon after the damage “worries” had become “realities”.
So, understandably, our election officer wanted to avoid the ballot box at all possible cost, but without seriously is hurting the sensitivities of the “voting blocks”. He secured six nominations to fill 3 vacancies (out of 7 totals) from the two feuding parties. Many telephone calls and a few personal meetings with the nominees and their supporters, before the grand standing event, yielded:
- Amicable resolution of technical challenges to nominee’s qualification.
- Consensus that the ballot box option would not be used, and
- Written authority of withdrawal from all nominees to the election officer.
The Election Chairman announced this progress at the beginning of the general body meeting, but also stated that he should not and would not (even though the nominees had given him that authority) select the three “best qualified” out of the six willing to serve. He led and encouraged the floor debate on Panthic Unity, diversity of ideas as strength, training of new leaders, the specific needs of the Sangat now, etc. These discussions became quite lively at times, but the presence of the Guru kept them dignified and mostly objective. Several ideas for the election cum selection were proposed by the election sewadar(s). When thoroughly discussed and “improved” by the nominees and their supporters, these became sangat’s solutions. The two feuding leaders were identified (not by the election officer) on the floor, the possible sources of their friction were discussed openly (but politely), and they were told to rededicate themselves to the true Sewa (and not to mutual conflicts).
These two “leaders”, the Election Chairman, and an able assistant went in a private room. One name was selected by each “faction” and the other gladly accepted it. The third was selected by drawing a lot. The total election/selection process in the private room took less than 5 minutes! All participants took oath not to divulge who specifically favored who. The Election Chairman announced the three “winners” so selected and the general membership unanimously approved them with a Jaikara. The meeting was adjourned with a special Ardas for our unity in general and the two heretofore “warring leaders” in particular.
Recognizing our human weaknesses, the postelection task of the Election Chairman was to monitor the progress of the unity of infant and to reassure those who were not selected. Several telephone calls, a few personal meetings, and carefully prepared speech (heavy dose of religion) the following Sunday did a lot of good, Finally, every member of Sangat was requested to assist in the crawling, walking and running of this “new born”. Time will tell what type of a man this unity child grows into.