Harmeet Dhillon Faces GOP Opposition

San Francisco-based attorney Harmeet Dhillon has raised hackles within her own Republican party, as she attempts to unseat Ronna McDaniel as Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

Until now, as a woman, as the daughter of Sikh immigrants, and in her career as a civil rights attorney and RNC Committeewoman for California, Dhillon has clearly defied stereotypes and made her mark as that rare Indian American voice for conservative causes.

But it appears that Dhillon is not without skeptics even within her own party.

Fans of Mike Lindell, the “MyPillow” CEO, who is also competing for RNC Chair, have been vocal about Dhillon’s Sikh faith and how she may not be a supporter of the “Judeo-Christian worldview.”

In fact, supporters of McDaniel, who herself is a devout Mormon, have raised concerns about Dhillon’s Sikh faith.

Harmeet Dhillon (Photo credit: dhillonforcrp)

The Founding Fathers

Last week, Dhillon addressed these concerns in an email to the steering committee of the Alabama Republican Party. She wrote,

 “I would like to take a minute to address concerns that have been raised by a small handful of Alabama Republican Party activists regarding my faith and how that would impact my ability to champion our nation’s Judeo-Christian values that are encapsulated in our Party Platform.”

Her statement asserted that the Founding Fathers intended religious liberty to be a basic principle of the U.S. Constitution, pointing out that, “it is the very first item referenced in the very first amendment of our Bill of Rights.”

A Sikh Prayer

Dhillon did not draw attention to her own Sikh religion, though she has always been open about her faith. At the GOP convention in 2016, she delivered a Sikh prayer to open the second night of the event. She wore the traditional head covering during the recitation of the Ardas in Punjabi, and later offered an English translation of it. She went on to explain the significance of this head covering for Sikhs.

And yet, when responding to her email, Alabama Republican and former secretary of state candidate Chris Horn said in an interview, that he and several other state Republicans had wanted Dhillon to explain her faith in Sikhism in her email.

Horn explained this was not motivated by religious bigotry, but because he and other fellow Black Republicans had initially assumed that Dhillon was Black and and now wanted more information on her background.

A Career in Politics

Californians are more familiar with Dhillon’s name than the rest of the country because she has been active in state level politics for over a decade. Dhillon is founder of the Dhillon Law Group, a nationally recognized litigation law firm which focuses on discrimination and civil liberties.

In 2008 she ran for a seat in the California Assembly and then for California Senate in 2012. Though she failed to get elected, Dhillon served as chair of the San Francisco Republican Party. In 2016 she became a committeewoman for the Republican National Committee. In running for RNC Chair, Dhillon hoped to cash-in on her Trump credentials. She was co-chair of “Women for Trump Coalition” in 2020 and legal advisor to the Trump campaign.

But the former President has declined to endorse either McDaniel (who he handpicked for RNC Chair in 2017), or Dhillon, saying in an interview with Breitbart,  “I think they’re both good. I like them both,” while acknowledging that “Harmeet is a lawyer for me, you know.”

A Belief in Conservatism

Harmeet Dhillon & her parents (Photo credit: dhillonforcr)

Dhillon grew up in a conservative household in Wake County, NC. She has spoken publicly about how politics was often the topic of discussion in her Sikh family, and credits US Senator Jesse Helms for inspiring her interest in politics.

Despite her lifelong commitment to the Republican party, her position within it has not been without controversy. Dhillon was criticized for her involvement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). As a board member of the group and after the 9/11 attacks, she worked on discrimination cases against Sikhs and other South Asians. Some Republicans have disapproved of her financial contributions to Kamala Harris’ campaigns, while her positions on Roe v. Wade and same-sex marriage do not quite align with the GOP party line. In the past, Dhillon has said that the government should not take a stand on personal matters.

One her website, Dhillon states her reasons for seeking the RNC Chair role is to steer the party in a different direction. She emphasizes the need to decentralize the RNC out of D.C., away from lobbyists, political consultants and beholden politicians. Dhillon believes they have pushed the party in a direction at the expense of what voters want. She wants to win over American voters in swing states, gain the support of independent voters and move the RNC’s fundraising, legal, political, and strategic operations out of D.C.

Though 4.5 million Indian Americans comprise only 1.4% of the total U.S. population, they have steadily developed financial and political clout. More Indian Americans are civically engaged in the democratic process and a significant number are running for political office. Dhillon follows in the footsteps of VP Kamala Harris, and former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nicky Haley, among others.

Transforming the GOP

Several Republican legislators and media personalities such as Fox News’ Laura Ingraham have endorsed Dhillon. Will the election on the 27th propel Dhillon into conservative political circles at the national level?

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Shabnam Arora Afsah is a writer, lawyer, and short story writer who is working on her first novel based on the Partition of India. She is a committed political activist and also runs a food blog for fun!