May 30, 2020
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USA/Washington DC

USA/Washington DC
There shouldn't have been room for controversy, with the five gurudwaras in the Washington-Baltimore area swallowing their often considerable differences to come together and commemorate the tricentenary. The festivities began sedately enough on February 4 with a series of kirtans and will conclude with an amrit sanchar in Virginia on April 14. But it's the march on April 10 that has caused some discomfort. The busloads of Sikhs swarming in from all over the country will include extremists who are definitely not welcome in the mainstream anymore. Though the orange-turbaned Gurmit Singh Aulakh-a familiar figure in the halls of Congress-is still pushing for a separate Sikh state, mainstream Sikhs have distanced themselves from Aulakh and other separatist groups.

"I have very little patience with extremists," says Jayant Kalotra, 59, who heads an international consulting firm in Virginia. Kalotra migrated to the US in 1984 and prefers to work behind the scenes to increase Sikh involvement in mainstream American politics. His goal is to "increase dignity and respect for our people".

The extremist point of view is also missing from the agenda of Washington-based dentist Rajwant Singh, 38, a community leader. He was the president of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington during 1994-96, and is now planning a "Sikh think tank" in the city, called the Sikh Council on Religion, Heritage and Education. That should appeal to people like Dr Surjit Kaur, who sees the underbelly of the American dream up close in her capacity as counsellor, but is bullish about the Sikh community as a whole.

After Dalip Singh Saund, there has been no Member of Congress of Indian origin. Neil Dhillon, 36, tried to change that in 1994. After a stint with the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign in 1992, he worked at the Department of Transportation, before deciding to run for Congress from Maryland. Dhillon lost the election, but retained his belief in the community. "Sikhs are the most underrated people here. Very different from the media stereotypes-Sikhs are a very serious community and should not be ridiculed."

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