The Sikh Caucus

By Anju Kaur | March 21, 2013

A congressional Sikh caucus will consist of like-minded members of Congress who understand the unique concerns of the Sikh community, sources in this report said. Sikh individuals and advocacy groups will have a platform to disseminate information on Sikh issues to members of Congress, which may affect policy and legislation. 
Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Pasadena, California) will be the chairwoman of the Sikh Caucus, and is the only potential member at this time. Chu also is the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
The effort to form a Sikh Caucus was spearheaded by Pritpal Singh, coordinator of the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, and Harpreet Singh Sandhu, a political activist. Both are from California.
The caucus would “raise the voice of Sikhs and their concerns,” Harpreet Singh said, by phone.
Many Sikhs were invited to come to Washington for the original launch set for March 14. They and three Sikh advocacy groups - the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund – and a non-Sikh advocacy group, South Asian Americans Leading Together, were informed of the event a week earlier. 
In the days leading to the original launch date, Chu met with Harpreet Singh, Pritpal Singh, representatives from the three Sikh advocacy groups, and SAALT, to discuss the caucus. The launch was suddenly cancelled two day before the event.
Pritipal Singh did not return several requests for comment.
Chu’s office also declined to comment on any aspect of the caucus. Until it is announced, “it’s just speculation,” said Dan Lindner, spokesman. But he offered that the launch was only postponed and is expected to happen in the next few weeks.
“There were people there who had concerns,” Harpreet Singh told SikhNN. He declined to elaborate further because the issues were “internal concerns,” he said. He is working to “alleviate those concerns” in the next few weeks.
“Our understanding is that Rep. Chu's office is working to build support for a Caucus that would focus on Sikh issues and that her office would like to launch it with a strong base of Congressional support,” said Amardeep Singh, program director for the Sikh Coalition, by email. “To that end, she has enlisted our help and that of other Sikhs and Sikh organizations.”
“It seemed like there was a shortage of information on who would join (the caucus), and would it be a proper launch?” said Jasjit Singh, executive director of SALDEF, by phone. “We should launch something much better and much bigger.”
“The launch of the Sikh Caucus has been delayed due to lack of support from some quarters,” said Manmeet Singh, staff attorney for United Sikhs. “However, we are confident that good sense will prevail and the Sikh Caucus will take birth soon with the support of all national Sikh organizations.”
Congressional support for the caucus may have been the biggest concern before the meeting, but additional concerns arose among some when a SAALT representative showed up to the meeting.
“I don’t have any information to share” about the caucus, said Deepa Iyer, executive director of SAALT, by email. She also declined to comment on her input at the meeting.
“What I've consistently heard and seen is SAALT saying they will “take the lead of their Sikh American partners,"” Amardeep Singh said. “Yes, we don't need any organization or individual from any community to make a caucus successful, but it does not hurt to have longstanding, influential friends who are supportive.” 
“We are not aware of how SAALT got involved,” Jasjit Singh said. There is a concern about “perception - how it looks… Sikh organizations should be running the show, but they (SAALT) have been deferential to our Sikh organizations.”
“We want many (Congress members) to join the caucus, and will reach out to all our friends… to request their help,” he added. “In that regard they (SAALT) actually could be helpful” in making connections. 
“It is imperative that the caucus' formative role be limited to national Sikh organizations,” Manmeet Singh said. “These are the organizations that have sound knowledge of Sikh affairs. They work with the community at the grassroots level and are in the best position to work on the formation of the Sikh Caucus. 
“Sikh issues are very sensitive and community specific,” he added. “Hence the foundation stone of the Sikh Caucus cannot be compromised with considerations that a non-Sikh organization may have, due to such organization's remit to include the competing and conflicting interests of other communities.”
According to the Committee on House Administration’s Web site, members of Congress form Congressional Member Organizations, more commonly known as caucuses, to pursue common legislative objectives. They register their caucus with the committee and pay for it from their personal funds. Members of both the House and Senate can participate in a caucus.
The Sikh Caucus is a way for Congress members to show solidarity with the Sikh community, sources said. Those with a large Sikh constituency are more likely to join the caucus, while those with conflicting interests will not.
“This is history in the making,” Manmeet Singh added. “The Sikh Caucus will be one of the best forums to put forth, and deal with Sikh-specific issues at the national level.”