Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member wins Hindu temple election

Almost three months after the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple election was won by an orthodox Sikh youth slate, the Surrey Hindu Temple election has gone to a group led by a member of an ultranationalist Hindu group.

On January 31, Parshotam Goel, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was elected president of the temple governed by the Vedic Hindu Cultural Society of B.C., soundly defeating a slate led by Sunny Chohan. The RSS is a volunteer group that advocates vociferously for a Hindu India.

Goel’s election coincided with the martyrdom day of Mohandas Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation and an international peace icon. He was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist formerly associated with the RSS, on January 30, 1948. The RSS was banned for about a year after Gandhi’s murder.

In an interview with the Straight, Goel dismissed critics who have accused the RSS of being against minorities, including Muslims and Christians, and wanting to turn India into a theocratic Hindu state. “The RSS is not a terrorist group,” he said. “It does not operate secretly. It’s a true nationalist group that teaches us to be proud Hindus. How does that harm secularism?’’

Goel, who was also elected in 2005, is the only member of the winning slate with strong ties to the RSS. He acknowledged that he supported the RSS campaign for the construction of a Hindu temple in the ancient Indian city of Ayodhya, the reputed birthplace of Lord Ram, a beloved Hindu god. Hindu militants had pulled down the Babri mosque on a disputed site in 1992, triggering violence that continued on and off for years. Hindu leaders claimed that the mosque was built by former Muslim rulers who had destroyed an original Ram temple.

A fiery Hindu preacher, Sadhvi Rithambara, was blamed for inciting the mobs in Ayodhya with her anti-Muslim oratory. According to Goel, she has twice visited the Surrey Hindu Temple. “We had also invited former RSS leader K. S. Sudarshan in the past and wish to invite the current chief, [Mohan] Bhagwat,’’ he said.

Goel said he is focusing more on issues relating to “the community at large’’, emphasizing that he wants to educate youth about the real values of Hinduism and contribute to the betterment of Surrey Memorial Hospital. In 2007, he helped create the Hindu-Sikh Unity Campaign to bring Hindus and moderate Sikhs together to counter pro-Khalistan Sikh separatists in B.C.