US Sikhs hire President Obama's poll gurus for big image makeover

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Feb 19, 2015 01:19 IST

If they could help an obscure politician win a senate seat and then the White House, twice, they surely have what it takes to help a beleaguered community find acceptance.

AKPD, a media consultancy founded by President Barack Obama's top campaign managers, has been hired by US Sikhs to re-introduce the community to Americans.

Though Sikhs have been around for a long time, they have felt threatened, and have been attacked, by those who know either little or nothing about them, especially since 9/11.

A country-wide survey commissioned to identify the problem and suggest remedies - whose findings were released on Tuesday - came to basically two conclusions. One, Americans don't know anything about Sikhs and were, therefore, cool towards them. Two, when informed about the community and its religion, they warmed up to it.

And that's the brief for AKPD, a Chicago-based consultancy formed by David Axelrod and David Plouffe, the two main drivers of Obama's election campaigns.

The media campaign is expected to roll out later in the year - the third quarter, said Gurwin Singh Ahuja, co-founder of National Sikh Campaign, in a phone conference. There was no response from AKPD to a request for comment.

The Sikh community has suffered much for its uniqueness. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner in Messa, Arizona, was killed just days after 9/11 - on September 15 - by a man who was looking for "towel-heads" to avenge the attacks.

The killer thought Sodhi was a mid-easterner. There were other instances of Sikhs being targeted for exactly the same reason - the alienation was both latent and blatant.

The worst of them was the killing of six Sikhs by a white supremacist at a Gurudwara in Silver Oak, Wisconsin in August 2012. A stunned community resolved to act.

Appointing AKPD is its newest initiative, riding on the back of a first-ever survey the community commissioned to both breakdown the challenge, and suggest the way forward.

The study, conducted by Hart Research, showed 60% Americans knew nothing about Sikhs and most of them were either neutral in their feelings about them (54%) or cool (16%).

But upon learning about the community, they warmed up to it, across demographics, the study found, a key finding, which Ahuja said, gave "us a clear roadmap".

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