I have written several times about Ranjit “Ricky” Gill, the Republican Party candidate for Congress in California’s 9th Congressional District. Gill is challenging Democratic Party incumbent Jerry McNerney for the seat.
Gill, 25, is the son of Sikh physicians in the Stockton, California area. Much of the donations to his campaign have come from the Sikh community, as well as interests in the healthcare and agricultural industries. The northern California constituency for which Gill is contesting is an area that has a sizable Sikh population and is, in fact, home to the first and oldest Gurdwara in the United States (the Gurdwara is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year).
There have been a variety of questions about Gill’s candidacy, particularly based on his age and lack of experience, and claims that he is downplaying his party affiliation (indeed, the fact that he is running as a Republican is not immediately transparent on his campaign website).
In April, I wrote about the emerging perception that Ricky Gill was also distancing himself from his Sikh background:
Much like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley did when she ran for the Governor’s seat, Gill is reportedly distancing himself from his Sikh heritage in his campaign and emphasizing a Christian background. As Haley endorsed Gill late last year, perhaps it should not be a surprise that he is following her playbook, but it is nonetheless disappointing that a Sikh American is choosing to obscure his own background for the sake of an election.
Shortly afterwards, I contacted Gill’s campaign to offer the opportunity to address this issue. I did not receive a response.
Fast forward to today: Gill’s minimal response to the attack at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara has reinforced the belief that Gill is attempting to downplay his religious background.
The recent mass shooting at the Oak Creek Gurdwara brought forth many statements of support from politicians, officials and civil rights leaders of all stripes, and it is curious to see whether a Sikh American candidate, running for federal office in a district with a large Sikh American population, would also have at least made a statement in sympathy with the Sikh community in Wisconsin.
On Gill’s website RickyGill.com, there is no such statement offered to show any kind of sympathy to his (I assume, his) co-religionists. If he has made private statements, or a statement in other such venues, they are not easy to find. Gill’s only public comment on the attack was a status update on his Facebook page, dated August 5, 2012:
My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of today’s shooting in Wisconsin, with their families, and with their communities. As they suffer through this tragedy, please keep them in yours, too.
Two sentences. The word or even a reference to “Sikh” appears in neither one.
Despite the fact that law enforcement has labelled the Oak Creek attack as “domestic terrorism” and that US Attorney General Eric Holder called the attack a hate crime, Gill has made no statement related to either of these issues important to the Sikh American community – assuredly that includes members of his own family, his district, his state, and his country – and other religious minorities. In fact, on Gill’s website, the only statement made in relation to terrorism was in the context of Al Qaeda and foreign governments.
Gill is not alone in this type of response. An albeit cursory survey of websites of other Sikh American politicians running for state or federal office reveals a similar pattern of behavior. In fact, South Carolina Governor (and one-time Sikh) Nikki Haley posted a very similarly distanced statement on her own Facebook page.
However, the context surrounding Gill highlights the vacuum of his response. Given his family background, the constituents in his district, and the federal nature of the office he is seeking, the minimal response by Gill on the tragic events in Wisconsin is glaring. As a Sikh American, I find it troubling that members of our faith seeking federal office are choosing to behave in this way, and I find questionable the rationale to support him with the hope that he will be a voice in the federal government for our faith group. After all, Ricky Gill has given us little reason to date to believe that such representation would be the case.
[Cross-posted on The Langar Hall]