American Turban

Breaking the political glass ceiling: Ravinder Singh Bhalla

Ravinder Singh Bhalla (photo: indiawest.com)

Ravinder Singh Bhalla (photo: indiawest.com)

It was a coincidence that after I wrote about what American Sikhs could learn from our Canadian counterparts on the political front, news began to circulate about New Jersey attorney and Hoboken city councilman Ravinder Singh Bhalla, a turban-wearing Sikh now running for a State Assembly seat in New Jersey (also see his election website, BhallaforAssembly.com as well).  If he is successful, he will be the first turbaned Sikh elected to office at the state level in the United States.

While as an attorney, Ravinder Singh has a record of defending Sikh civil rights:

From the very beginning of his legal career, Ravi has taken on some of the most groundbreaking anti-Sikh discrimination cases in the history of the United States. In 2004, in partnership with the Sikh Coalition, Ravi was the lead counsel in a successful lawsuit against the New York City Police Department, forcing it to accept a turbaned Sikh as a police officer for the first time. In 2006, Ravi successfully filed a lawsuit against Delta Airlines on behalf of a Sikh who was told that he should sit in his seat and never get out of it because of his “Arabic” appearance.

To have such a Sikh to be a representative in State politics would be a groundbreaking achievement, and so this fact alone will garner him significant support among Sikhs and other Asian Americans.  However, as I wrote previously, unlike those in Canada, American Sikhs cannot simply count on Sikh support to elect a candidate. For a candidate to succeed, he or she needs to represent the interests of their entire constituency. Fellow Sikh Harmeet Dhillon, Chairperson of the San Francisco Republican party (who has been mentioned on this blog before) also supports Ravinder Singh’s candidacy, and not just because he is also a Sikh:

“Ravi is an independent Democrat, not beholden to labor interests, and in favor of anti-corruption, which is huge in that part of the country,” said Dhillon, pointing to Bhalla’s platform of lowering taxes and less regulation, which she said was in line with conservative values.

Thus, one of the impressive things about Ravinder Singh’s candidacy is that he is not running to be elected as a Sikh-for-Sikhs (as was the case in many of the Canadian contests).  He has a defined platform based on fiscal issues concerning his entire district.  He has even garnered the support of Hoboken’s mayor based on his stances around fiscal policies.

On Monday, May 30, a fundraiser in Oakland, California will be held to support Ravinder Singh’s candidacy.  The election for New Jersey’s 33rd Legislative District is scheduled for June 7.

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