A group of Turlock Sikh Temple members held a press conference on Thursday with the aim of urging Harinder Grewal to drop out of the race for California's 12th Assembly District.
"He's portraying himself as the voice of the Sikh community, however, we don't feel that way," said Turlock Sikh Temple member Kanwar Sandhu.
Grewal, a former Turlock Unified School District trustee and senior agriculture inspector for Stanislaus County, is one of six candidates hoping to fill the seat that is currently held by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen.
Grewal has also been a spokesperson for one group of the Turlock Sikh Temple members who have been engaged in an over two-year legal battle over the control of the Temple's operations and finances. The fight over who controls the temple started with the dismissal of a priest in 2013, which was followed by a physical altercation in front of the house of worship.
A few weeks after the fight a group of Temple members took over the Temple by seizing control of all the records, the office and changing the locks on the Temple doors.
The board of directors sought to regain control by filing a civil complaint in court. The complaint claimed the change in leadership was invalid because it had not been done through an election. For two years the issue was argued in the courtroom before a ruling was finally issued. The court ruled in favor of the board and ordered the defendants to cede control of the Temple. The court also barred the named defendants from serving as officers or directors at the Temple until April 2016.
The defendants in the case filed an appeal and were granted a stay of action, allowing them to retain control of the Temple until the appeal is considered by a judge.
Tensions between Temple members exploded on Jan. 10, when police were called to break up a fight involving more than 100 people. Investigations following the altercation resulted in the arrest of five individuals for assault charges.
Since the Jan. 10 fight, Sikh community leaders from around the state have attempted to bring the two groups together and each side has participated in formal mediation through the court.
According to Temple Secretary Gurjit Singh, compromise has not been found by the two groups because Grewal has been "misguiding" those who have sought his council.
"There are things he could have done to prevent the violence that happened on Jan. 10," said Sandhu. "How can he be a problem-solver on the state level if he can't be a problem-solver on the local level?"
When contacted about the Sikh Temple member's accusations, Grewal said that he has been working for over two years to right a wrong.
"The legal order was clear," he said. "The judgment by Judge John Freeland clearly stated that what these guys did, the way they took over the Sikh temple, was illegal.
"We can't let these aggressors continue; that is what I stand up for," he continued.
While the Temple members on Thursday accused Grewal of working against a peaceful solution to the remaining conflict, Grewal said that he has been advocating for fair elections of a Temple management committee.
"What they want is to keep control. They have no respect for local community," he said. "They said they want to stay in control. They are only willing to listen if Turlock Sikh Temple elections are nationwide and allow the current management team to stay in control until elections. We are ready for elections. The judgment was clear, let the elected committee come back and then go out to elections in three months.
"One way or another, they just want to keep control of the Sikh Temple and it's all about money."
When it comes to the upcoming Assembly District elections, Grewal said: "Who wins Assembly District 12 will be decided by the voters."