Turf war rocks Sikh temple
At least two groups of Filipino-Indians are battling for control over the richest, oldest and largest congregation of Punjabis here, the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple in Paco, Manila.
A ranking member has been killed in the turf war for supremacy in the predominantly Sikh organization whose coffers are estimated to hold some P100 million.
The Khalsa’s duly-elected president, Bhagwant Rai Bansal, survived an ambush in 2006, allegedly staged by rivals whom he charged for misusing more than P30 million.
On Thursday, he received another death threat.
In an interview with Standard Today at his safehouse in Quezon City, Bansal said he was again being targeted by fellow Punjabis after he opposed the Khalsa’s new leadership under Gurmeet Singh Samalsar, whose faction managed to take over the temple through a “coup” last May. Since then, the ousted Bansal has been struggling to regain his seat.
“They just came there [Khalsa] and declared the holding of a general body meeting that called for an election. No election happened. In fact, there was no quorum because the handful who arrived, numbering a little over a dozen, were not even members of the organization. To avoid violence, I gave way by taking a break and we were surprised to learn that Samalsar, who was my vice president, already declared himself as the new leader of the Khalsa Diwan,” Bansal said.
Nothing in Khalsa Diwan’s records showed that a general meeting had been held from 2004 up to now, Standard Today learned.
The latest controversy involving the Khalsa Diwan’s leadership started when Samalsar and Surjit Singh took over the organization in a “fake” election on May 9. Sept. 18, an unidentified man left an envelope at the parking lot of the condominium where Bansal stayed, with a letter saying he would be killed.
An incident report filed by guard on duty Warren Managquil, 18, stated that there were two other Indian-looking men on a motorcycle and two more who took a taxi cab after the letter was “delivered.”
The Caloocan City police has interviewed witnesses, resulting in a cartographic sketch of the man who left the envelope.
The image, investigators noted, matched that of the suspect who sent a similar death threat to the fiscal who handled the case filed by Bansal against the Khalsa’s former leaders—Amardeep Singh and Pritam Singh—who allegedly squandered the organization’s funds.
Amardeep, Pritam, Gurpreet Singh, Karnal Singh and four others were charged with murder of Rajesh Kumar, reportedly the past president of Khalsa Diwan, and attempted murder in the failed ambush on Bansal.
Of the eight suspects, only Amardeep and Pritam are reportedly in jail.
Bansal, who sustained a lone gunshot wound to the neck, identified the suspects as those who shot and left him for dead near his condominium.
Kumar tried to flee but he was pursued and shot despite pleas, according to Bansal.
Records showed that when Bansal became Khalsa president following the court-supervised elections in 2004, he ordered an accounting of the organization’s assets and found that Amardeep’s group siphoned off P30.6 million from donations to the Gurdwara to a new corporation—Khalsa Diwan (Sikh Religious Association) Inc.—which was patterned after Khalsa Diwan (Sikh Temple) Inc., he said.
Citing a report by Oliveros, Tajada and Co., certified public accountants, and signed by Ofelia Oliveros on Feb. 1, 2005, Bansal said Amardeep’s group had “unaccounted cash balances” from 2000 to 2004 amounting to P30.6 million.
“As the new president then, I gave them nine months to account for the funds or to surrender to the Khalsa Diwan the properties they bought using the same funds. When they failed to comply, I decided to file the case. Then I was ambushed.”
Bansal’s leadership was similarly rocked by controversies ranging from “overstaying” to non-acceptance of new members.
Although the Khalsa Diwan’s by-laws only allow members of the board of trustees to govern for one year, Bansal was president from 2004 until May 2008, when Samalsar and Singh forcibly took over.
“I was about to call for an election in 2006 before I was ambushed. Instead of facing me in an election, they [Amardeep’s group] decided to kill me. Luckily, I survived. Now when I was about to call for new elections again, they [Samalsar group] came and grabbed power just like that,” he said, claiming that he was still president of Gurdwara.
An Indian place of worship is called “Gurdwara,” which is equivalent to “holy shrine” or church in the Christian faith. In the Philippines, there are more than 200 Gurdwaras that draw thousands of worshippers during weekends.
The most prominent Gurdwara, Khalsa Diwan (Indian Sikh Temple) on U.N. Avenue dating to 1929, draws about a thousand Punjabis and worshippers on Sundays. Mostly Sikh, Punjabis are from Punjab, in northern Indian sub-continent.