Sikh Holy Men excommunicate Canadian leader

Sect dissidents vie for $20-million in assets after accusing Grewal of improprieties

National Post/January 7, 2004
By Fabian Dawson

Vancouver -- The controversial leader of a wealthy Sikh sect who defeated attempts in the B.C. courts to oust him has been excommunicated by the Body of Sikh Holy Men in Punjab for allegedly drinking liquor and participating in objectionable activities in Canada.

The weekend decree has triggered a scramble for some $20- million of the sect's assets, including some 2,800 hectares of land in B.C., Alberta and Ontario that is controlled by the faction allied to the excommunicated Harnek Singh Grewal.

The Body of Sikh Holy Men, called the "Sant Samaj," reportedly excommunicated Mr. Grewal, who has hundreds of followers in Canada with temples in Richmond, B.C., Edmonton and Toronto. He also has congregations in the United States, England and India.

Mr. Grewal, 65, who was convicted in Edmonton of impaired driving in May, 2000, is the spiritual head of the Nanaksar movement, which is known for such strict tenets as celibacy for its holy men and abstinence from alcohol.

He is revered by thousands globally as Maharaj Ji or "Prince."

The weekend excommunication has pitted rival factions in a battle to control the movement's assets, including land, $1.2-million in annual temple donations, an estimated $15-million in temple members' equity, hundreds of thousands of dollars in farming income and a newly built, million-dollar mansion in Richmond, B.C.

Communal violence has also erupted in the Punjab village of Siahar where Mr. Grewal was the reigning "Sant" or saint at the local temple. One policeman has been killed and at least eight other people injured.

Indian media reported that a heavy police force has been deployed in the village this week as rival factions plan separate press conferences in the wake of reports that Mr. Grewal plans to officiate at a function in the area on Jan. 13. The factions also plan to lay claim to all assets of the movement globally.

Last year, dissident members of the Nanaksar Gurdwara-Gursikh Temple society in Richmond lost a petition in B.C. Supreme Court to oust Mr. Grewal and the directors from the governing society of the movement.

They claimed that Mr. Grewal used temple funds to build a large house for himself and a young woman from India, that he promoted the belief of free sex as a path to enlightenment, drank alcohol on temple grounds and lost $45,000 of temple money gambling in Las Vegas.

But Justice Laura Gerow disagreed with every major point advanced by the petitioners, saying they were merely challenging the succession of Mr. Grewal to the position of high priest of the sect in 1994.

One of the petitioners, Madho Singh Pandher, is the grandson of the sect's founder, Baba Ji, who passed away in August, 1994.

"After reviewing the material, I have concluded that the basis of this action is a religious dispute about whether Maharaj Ji is the appropriate successor to Baba Ji," Judge Gerow wrote in her reasons for judgment.

"The court has no role in religious matters," she ruled, saying the petitioners had advanced no evidence to back up their statements.

The court also said there was no need for an auditor to review the temple finances.

The dissidents, having lost their battle in the B.C. courts, then took their complaints to the Body of Sikh Holy Men in Punjab, which formed a panel to probe the allegations of misconduct against Mr. Grewal.

Mr. Grewal ignored the panel's order to respond to the allegations within 15 days.

Following the excommunication decree, a spokesman for the Grewal faction said the order from the Body of Sikh Holy Men was invalid because Mr. Grewal was not a member of the group.

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