Toronto: Canada, which created history by electing the western world’s first turbaned Sikh – Gurbax Singh Malhi – as an MP in 1993, may create another record by electing a first white Sikh MP in the October 19 parliamentary elections.
Martin Singh ‘Paaji’, 42, who converted to Sikhism in 1991 and got baptised in 1993, is in the poll fray from Toronto’s neighbouring city of Brampton which has the second largest concentration of Indians – mostly Punjabis – in Canada.
This fast talking ‘gora’ or ‘white’ Sikh is the candidate from Brampton North for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) which is leading in opinion polls.
Married to a Sikh girl from Amritsar, Martin Singh is pitted against two Sikhs – the sitting MP Parm Gill of the ruling Conservative Party and Ruby Sahota of the Liberal Party.
“We are here to win. I am confident that I will be elected. People are responding very well,” says the father of three, as he canvasses from door to door in Canada’s most ethnic city.
“There are 21,000 Punjabis in my riding (constituency) and I am connecting with each and everyone. They have confidence in me. They know what I can do for them,” says Martin Singh, who runs a pharmacy business that employs about 500 people.
Recent changes in immigration have impacted families, Martin Singh says, adding that addressing this issue will be his top priority. “The Canadian immigration and visa system is broken, we want to fix it as immigrant families want all their members to be united. I am a businessman and I want to create jobs which have vanished.”
Because of his turban, this fast-talking ‘gora’ or ‘white’ Sikh made headlines in Canada when he ran for the leadership of the New Democratic Party in 2012.
Ask him why he converted to Sikhism, and he says: “Sikhism attracted me because Guru Nanak emphasised that ‘Naam japo, kirat karo, vand chhako’ (meditate, earn honest living by hard work and share) and his vision to pass guruship to the most deserving, not his kin. So I embraced Sikhism in 1991. In 1993, I got baptised.”
He says his family was very supportive of his conversion to Sikhism. “My mother says that her son has done many interesting things in life, but this one (conversion) has lasted the longest.”
Martin Singh says he got baptised in 1993, and thanks to a Sikh family in Calgary he got introduced to a Sikh girl in Amritsar who was to become his wife.
“I first went to India in 1997, and met with the woman librarian of Religious Studies Department at Guru Nanak Dev University. The librarian was related to the Sikh family in Calgary. She introduced me to her niece Amandeep Kaur who had just finished her Masters in Punjabi literature from Punjabi University Patiala. I liked her and we got married in Amritsar. I came back and she joined me here in 1998 as her visa took some time.”
Though he cannot speak much Punjabi, Martin ‘Paaji’ has acquired enough knowledge to read Sikh scriptures in the Gurmukhi script. It is quite amusing to hear him use the word `paaji’ (which means elder brother in Punjabi) in his conversation more frequently than an average Punjabi.
Out of the eight Indo-Canadian MPs in the outgoing House of Commons of 308 members, six were Sikhs. In the upcoming elections, it is Sikh vs Sikh in over a dozen ridings or constituencies.