Imagine for a moment hundreds of Hindus registering to vote in a church, or a mosque – just to swing the election in favor of one of the candidates. This is exactly what happened during the weekend of April 22-23, in Dallas, when hundreds of Muslims came out to vote in the election of the Board of trustees of a Hindu temple and swung the election in favor of those who had invited them.
United we stand, divided we fall is an old adage, but never more true in a democratic context, where numbers count in a fundamental way. Hindu Unity, or Hindu Identity is far from being an accomplished fact. The ability of the Hindu to break away from his fellow Hindu, because he has a different point of view, on some minor matter of detail, or because his personal (somewhat self-centered) expectations and desires have not been unfulfilled – has time and again been the root cause of the downfall and destruction of the Hindu Civilization. Our Ramayana and Mahabharata which we hold to be so dear, are both tales of internecine civil conflicts, originating within a single family, where jealousy and greed took hold of the center stage, and ultimately cascaded out of control into a major war.
A new iteration of this age old drama played itself out over an 18 month period culminating on the weekend of April 22-23, 2017 in Dallas, Texas at the Shri Ram Mandir of Plano, when the Hindu community collectively scored a self-goal. One member of a Board could not agree with the others on the Board, fired them all unilaterally in violation of the Temple’s By-laws, and kept escalating the conflict until it went out of control, ended up in the courts, and unfolded into the surreal drama of a court administered election to the Board of a Hindu temple, being infiltrated by hundreds of Muslims, voting on behalf of one group of Hindus, in a desperate effort to swing the election in their favor.
How did this happen? One reason – the court appointed Administrator Nathan White, rather naively decreed that only members who registered and paid their dues between January 1 and February 28 of 2017 would be eligible to vote, thereby disqualifying all life members of the temple. Another reason – the By-Laws of the Temple were written so poorly that it allowed for a massive influx of Non-Hindus into the Temple membership, people who ordinarily would have had no interest in the Hindu temple’s activities, but who registered with the exclusive intent to sway the election. So the election went from being a matter for the well-wishers of the Hindu temple to determine, to a farcical contest of who could register more voters.
Whatever be the merits or de-merits of either group which fought the elections, and where they stood on issues of Governance and Administration of the temple, this much can be said for sure: One team (Let’s call them Team Jaichand) consisting of Richa Sharma, Neelam Kumari Rana, Gagan Shori, Shrikant Bongu and Badal Bhujel, ably supported by their nefarious masterminds Raj Sharma (who has been controlling the temple for most of its 10 years in existence) and Ashish Nayyar shamelessly sought out Muslims to become members of the Ram Mandir, in order to sway the election in their favor, and they won. The other group – Team Dharma, consisting of Nar Dahal, Honey Goel, Rajiv Maini, Prashant Patel and Shashank Sharma, tried to appeal to the conscience of the Hindu community, to come to their aid, and they lost, mostly because not enough Hindus came to their rescue. Their margin of loss was small, i.e. between 71 and 118 votes, across all 5 candidates, on a base of approximately 2000 votes – yet the striking and irrefutable fact at the heart of this drama is that the Muslims came out to vote at a Hindu temple election, in significant numbers and their vote made “the” difference.
Why did the Jaichand team not enlist a greater number of Hindus to come and vote on their behalf – At least, that would have been a fair fight between two groups of Hindus; after all are there not tens of thousands of Hindus in Dallas, Texas? When did it become normal to eagerly and actively solicit the participation of Muslims in an election to the Board of a Hindu temple? One would have thought, at least the inner sanctum of a Hindu temple, would be secure in the hands of the Hindus, but no – the Jaichand team has broken new ground, in normalizing what was unthinkable. And then there is the question – Would the Muslims have entertained Hindus participating in this manner at their Mosque?
For now, the future of the Shri Ram Temple in Dallas, will have to rest in the hands of the Jaichands, and their Muslim friends. But it insidiously opens the possibility of similar hostile incursions into other Hindu temples and institutions. We must spare a word for the real heroes of our story i.e. the tens of thousands of Hindus in Dallas who didn’t care one way or another, and who didn’t bother to register as members of the Mandir, and therefore didn’t turn up to vote – and of course their story was “Who Cares? It is not my Mandir anyway?”
As team Dharma picks itself up from this defeat we must hope that the lessons of this affair, are assimilated and the Hindu community finds a way of rectifying its errors, and regaining a measure of balance in handling its own temple affairs, free from this kind of intrusion and invasion, and more importantly it learns to handle its own internal conflicts more gracefully.
After all, our epics say that Dharma will win eventually, even if it is exiled for a long while in the interim.
— Kalyan Viswanathan, Sanatana Dharma Foundation, Dallas, TX