When I first heard about the formation of a new youth party for the upcoming Singh Sabha Gurdwara elections in Southall, I like many of my friends was overcome with excitement at the thought of being a part of something quite spectacular and unprecedented in Southall. I attended the meeting where the new youth party presented their ideas and I raised a sole question regarding how the new youth party plans to secure votes. I have also since spoken with individuals who acknowledge the need to bring about positive change in the way we run our Gurdwara and generally I’ve heard three types of viewpoints: some people have their reservations, some have provided feedback on how certain aspects could be improved, and some believe this is the best thing since sliced bread.

Last week I came across a well written piece on this site, written by a peer who clearly feels passionately about the subject. Upjeet Kaur’s take on the entire matter made me really think about the current situation so I decided to write this piece. I personally know many of the people involved with the new youth party, including the above mentioned writer, so I trust that they will appreciate the objective and impartial analysis I have tried to convey which inevitably contains my own personal conclusions.

It is safe to say that change is necessary for us to progress. But it’s not a question of how much we really ‘want’ it. If you’re from the School of Guru Nanak, ‘wanting’ change ought to be a prerequisite in any attempt to better serve the community; not just for our own community but for the betterment of the society around us. In any event, even if it were a question of really ‘wanting’ change, how would that test be measured? Moreover, those in touch with Sikh and Punjab affairs are all too familiar with the change our community needs, especially the youth in Southall and surrounding towns. So in relation to the current topic of Gurdwara administration and governance perhaps we shouldn’t be asking how much we ‘want change. Perhaps a more appropriate question to ask is ‘what is the most realistic approach to implementing change that best negates the risk of estranging the current leadership and avoids alienating those individuals and groups of people who are making what they deem to be steady progress towards change’?

Gurdwara committee elections are a peculiar subject where each party vows to fulfil the needs and wants of the community. Each party will have a manifesto which no doubt is heralded to be greater than the oppositions’. There will be a lot of promises made and emotionally driven speeches delivered to rally the crowds – rather strange when you consider that we’re all chips off the same block. Nevertheless, all of that is accepted as standard procedure towards running for an election. However, perhaps the single most decisive factor is to, at the very least win the votes of the people our youth party is claiming to represent. If we don’t have the youth on board, surely that means there are some debates to be had where open discussions can be held in a civilized manner; a pragmatic approach to otherwise labeling those trying to provide constructive feedback as cynical outcasts.

There is no disputing the need for our youth to step up and get involved with the governance of their local Gurdwara. For that reason alone, much respect should be given to the youth that have decided to take action and create a new youth party. That said, the issue at hand is not whether the youth should get involved but rather it is an issue of considering how best to implement the change we all crave. Let us briefly consider the stark reality of the situation in Southall: the new youth party needs to acquire approximately 4000 members within the next 3 weeks to stand any chance of being a serious contender in an otherwise two horse race; it also needs to have a 21 member committee to run the party; at the time of writing neither of these two requirements have been met. That is the truth of the matter, it is not a pessimistic view or an attempt to derail the youth initiative but merely the reality of our situation.

Another issue to consider is the risk of handing the current committee a landslide victory by splitting the vote and taking away swing voters from the current opposition party. The Sher Party have allegedly offered 6-8 seats to the youth. Let us just pause and reflect on that for a moment; almost half of the 21 member committee could be comprised of youth? That’s a fantastic proposal and one which we ought to be grabbing with both hands! Let us compare that to the youth involved in the East London elections in Ilford at the moment – they occupy 10 of the 21 seats on their committee. It seems like they’re more than content working alongside senior members of the committee to better serve the needs of the wider community.

A similar comparison can be drawn with the youth committee in Calgary that has recently been looked upon as the leading light for the rest of the youth. Although upon closer inspection there are other factors that differ in our situation with those faced by the youth in Calgary. There was only one other opposition party and they genuinely had no educational classes at the Gurdwara. So what the youth offered to the community was something completely new. We don’t have the same issue here. There are many Gurmat and Kirtan classes that run in Southall, not to mention the prime time weekly Sunday Katha slot in English. Furthermore we have an excellent library at Havelock Road including the writings of some of our best academics – both in English and Punjabi. So our situation is very different to the situation in Calgary.

That aside, both of the aforementioned examples should serve as an indication that maybe we should alter our approach to creating change. That is why I believe a coalition with the old guard is a realistic shot of securing transitional change that will allow us to represent our views and implement change in a controlled and cohesive manner. It not only promotes humility on the part of the youth but equally demonstrates the willingness to work with our elders. Experience and wisdom of those already involved in Gurdwara administration coupled with the drive and passion of the youth that want to create positive change to their Gurdwara will most certainly win the hearts of the community. The projects outlined by the new youth party should be the real crux of this deliberation and if they can be delivered by working with the ‘older’ Sikhs then why are we not working towards that? As I stated earlier, we’re all chips off the same block – an important point to remember.