In an embarrassing blow to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, a large group of Sikh Liberals in British Columbia is quitting the party, saying Trudeau is being “manipulated” by Sikhs under the banner of the World Sikh Organization.
“We think this Liberal Party’s been hijacked by the WSO,” said Rajinder Singh Bhela, a longtime Liberal and former general secretary of the Ross Street Temple, Vancouver’s largest Sikh temple.
Ottawa-area Liberal nomination draws protest
“The Liberal Party, especially Justin, is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups. That’s why I decided to leave the Liberal Party,” said Kashmir Dhaliwal, ex-president of the powerful Khalsa Diwan Society, founded by Sikh pioneers in 1902.
The walkout was provoked by the party’s selection of a WSO-backed candidate, Harjit Singh Sajjan, over a prominent businessman, Barj Dhahan. Dhahan is a moderate ally of Ujjal Dosanjh, the previous Liberal MP.
Vancouver South, wrested from the Liberals in 2011 by Conservative Wai Young, is one of several swing ridings the Liberals hope to regain in the next election.
The party-preferred candidate, Sajjan, is a decorated soldier and was a featured speaker at the last Liberal convention. He now stands to win by acclamation after Dhahan was persuaded by the party leadership to withdraw.
Dhahan declined to discuss his reasons with CBC News, except to confirm that he withdrew reluctantly.
‘Star’ candidate a decorated veteran
Echoes of old battles between militants and moderates linger in the riding.
Harjit Sajjan and Gov. Gen. David Johnston
Harjit Sajjan, left, is congratulated by Gov. Gen. David Johnston after receiving the Meritorious Service Medal in March 2013. Sajjan twice served as a special adviser in Afghanistan and was the first Sikh to head a Canadian army regiment. (Office of the Governor General)
Harjit Sajjan is the son of a veteran WSO board member, Kundan Sajjan, who led fundamentalists in a losing battle with moderates over control of the Ross Street Temple.
Dosanjh, the former MP, often clashed with so-called Khalistanis fighting for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan.
The younger Sajjan is billed as a “star” candidate because he is the first Sikh to command a Canadian army regiment — a reserve B.C. regiment known as the Duke of Connaught’s Own. Sajjan was also decorated for his service in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
Sajjan told CBC News, “I’m not a member of the WSO.” He expressed the hope that he would win back his critics and said the issue is for voters to decide.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the people of south Vancouver.”
Sajjan said he saw little impact from the walkout in his travels around the riding.
“I’ve had no negative vibes from anybody.”
Even so, the fact that he will not face a vote leads some party stalwarts to allege a violation of Trudeau’s promise to hold open nominations.
“We want democratic values in this country,” said Dhaliwal.
“Any party that does not respect democratic values, we will not support that party.”