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Judge confirms Fremont Sikh Gurdwara election results
New leaders' rule as the Supreme Council begins Sunday

HAYWARD, Jan 15, 2005

After eight years of heated and sometimes violent debate over who should rule Fremont's powerful Sikh temple, a judge announced Thursday that leadership would be handed to five men who were chosen in the painstakingly organized election last Sunday.
About 20 members of the temple, or gurdwara, assembled in a courtroom at the Hayward Hall of Justice to hear the results. Afterward, several of the newly elected leaders gathered outside, removing their shoes, clasping their hands and thanking God for the outcome.

The new leaders' official rule in the leadership body, called the Supreme Council, begins Sunday.

"We want first to develop a process, a beautiful process, so that we should not be knocking on the courtroom door (again)," said Gurmeet Singh, his cheeks glistening with tears. "Everyone should feel a part of this organization."

The announcement came more than eight years after the gurdwara's last official election, when disputed results spurred violence and nine arrests.

Discord boiled over again in 2002, when police in riot gear supervised an impromptu election at a general assembly meet-

ing. This time, the matter ended up in court. The gurdwara is the second largest in the nation. Its leaders set temple policy and oversee annual revenues of $1 million.

Sikhism, the roots of which are in the northern Indian state of Punjab, originated more than 500 years ago. The faith has 25 million observers worldwide, including about 50,000 in the Bay Area.

At the heart of the dispute between two factions at the Fremont gurdwara has been whether temple leaders should be regularly elected or should serve for life. Gurmeet Singh was one of five plaintiffs who argued for regular elections.

In her 2002 ruling, Superior Court Judge Julia Spain applied the California Corporations Code, which mandates annual elections for religious nonprofit organizations, in place of temple bylaws that did not specify term lengths for leaders.

Last Sunday's election was, for many, a long-awaited outcome of Spain's decision, as was the meticulous process that preceded it to determine who could vote and to register voters.

More than 4,000 people cast ballots at the gurdwara Sunday, some waiting hours to name their five picks from the 11 candidates, who ran on two different platforms, each loosely affiliated with one of the two factions. About two-thirds voted for Gurmeet Singh's party.

After their prayer of gratitude, the winners reached for their cell phones to share the news.

None of the members from the other party were present at the hearing. Jesse Singh, a supporter of the incumbent leaders, said they had not been informed of the announcement.

Gurbux Kaur Khalom was one of five candidates from the losing Sadh Sangat party and the only woman to run in the gurdwara's history.

"I think the congregation has spoken and we should all respect that," she said. "Hopefully the people who are elected will respect the wishes of the community."

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