Gurpreet Singh: Man who lost relatives in Air India bombing elected as Sikh temple vice president
Major Singh Sidhu—who lost his sister, a nephew, and a niece in the 1985 Air India bombing—was elected vice president in the Vancouver Sikh temple election last weekend. Sidhu was one of the candidates on the winning moderate Sikh slate led by Sohan Singh Deo.
Deo's team decisively defeated the two conservative Sikh slates led by Joga Singh Sangha and Kuldip Singh. The moderates attracted 4,218 votes. While the slate led by Sangha got 2,627 votes, Kuldip Singh's slate finished in the third place with only 1,013 votes. The humiliating defeat of the conservatives was announced on the morning of November 27.
Sangha could not win despite the fact that Gurpal Singh Birak, a former moderate leader had shifted his loyalty and ran for his slate. Likewise, Kuldip Singh failed to draw enough support despite being endorsed by prominent sportsmen in the local Sikh community.
Sidhu has been active in Sikh temple politics since the 1985 Air India bombing that killed 329 passengers and crew members. It was the biggest tragedy in the history of aviation terrorism before 9/11, and was the driving force behind Sidhu's decision to run for the moderate Sikh slate. In the past, he held the post of recording secretary.
Sidhu’s sister, Sukhwinder Uppal,his 11-year-old niece, Parminder, and 10-years-old nephew Kuldeep were among those perished in the terrorist attack blamed on Sikh extremists seeking revenge for bloody political events in India during 1984. These included an army assault on the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs that was turned into a fortress by the religious fundamentalists, and an anti-Sikh pogrom that followed the assassination of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
The attack on Air India transformed Sidhu into a political activist, who has continued to oppose religious fanaticism in the Sikh community since then.
"I was never interested in a public life," he conceded to the Straight. "However, after the tragedy, I decided not to sit in the background while the militants were calling shots in the community."
He first campaigned resolutely against fundamentalists in the 1988 temple election and never looked backed after that. The fundamentalists were last ousted from the Ross Street temple in 1997. It has remains under the control of the moderates since then.
Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.