Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

In BPP Election Several Parsis fear takeover of punchayet by chief and wife

BPP chairman’s wife is contesting for trustee’s post, raising prospects of husband-wife pair in control of the community’s largest trust.

Ever since the Bombay Parsi Punchayet Trust adopted the universal franchise within the community in 2008, its elections have been dogged by controversy. It is no different this year, even though just one seat is up for grabs.

Article by Tariq Engineer | Mumbai Mirror

64800509The election for that seat is scheduled on Sunday, and one of the contestants is Anahita Desai, wife of the trust’s chairman, Yazdi Desai. Anahita’s opponents say if she emerges victorious, it will result in the couple holding sway over the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP).

Anahita is the chief executive officer of the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis and has been a community activist for the past 15 years. On the strength of that experience, she is campaigning as someone who will get things done.

“They (BPP) have a very nice board in the sense that good decisions are taken but the follow-up to get things done to get a project moving is not very good. That is where they need someone,” she told Mirror. She had unsuccessfully contested the 2011 BPP trust elections.

The prospect of a husband-wife pair on the seven-member trust has left a few in the community uneasy about the propriety of having two people who are related on the seven-member board. The Desais have put such a criticism down to opposition politics.

“If people are going to judge me only as someone’s wife and disregard my capabilities, my track record of community service, the time that I can give, then I find it quite ridiculous. Sorry to say, it is a very politically motivated thing,” Anahita said.

She also pointed to examples of public charitable trusts within the community where there have been husband and wife teams. “There is Mr and Mrs Tamboly who manage the World Zoroastrian Organisation Trust Funds. And the Ahmedabad Parsi Punchayet had two couples on the board. I don’t know what the big deal is,” she said.

Yazdi said the criticism was a result of the enmity between him and Dinshaw Mehta, the previous chairman. Mehta was accused of misappropriation of the trust funds and a criminal case was filed in court. Mehta’s son Viraf is one of the current trustees.

Yazdi said all steps have been taken to ensure impartiality, and that he had recused himself from all the logistical and administrative decisions to do with the election. He campaigned for his wife, which led to some disapprovals. “Because I am campaigning for my wife, I have recused myself from the administrative side. There is no conflict,” he said.

Xerxes Dastur, who is the other leading candidate, has Mehta’s support but campaigned as an independent. His main plank has been better transparency and professionalism in the BPP, and he did not wish to be drawn into the husband-wife debate.

“I am not bothered by that issue. I am only standing for myself and I am putting forward my strengths as a chartered accountant and a professional. I am not bothered by who is contesting against me,” he said.

The three other candidates, Ratan Patel, Kersi Sethna, and Eric Dhatigara, are not expected to provide much of a contest.

According to an editorial in Parsiana, a community magazine, if Anahita wins, Yazdi will be in full control of the board so long as he does not alienate the other three trustees who typically vote alongside him (Noshir Dadrawala, Kersi Randeria and Zarir Bhathena).

Jehangir Patel, the editor of Parsiana, didn’t think there was much difference on the issues between Anahita and Dastur.

The election, he said, would depend on “whether voters want a husband and wife team on the board”.

To this, Anahita said, “It’s a seven-member board. Out of that, if two are a family, what about the other five? If elected, I would not be a signatory on any of the trust’s bank accounts as aprecautionary measure.”

When she was asked about the possible disagreements with her husband (assuming she was elected to the trust’s board), she said they would try to convince each other but they could always agree to disagree. Yazdi, however, added adisagreement was unlikely.

“It will be quite doubtful because we have a common agenda, ideology, and goals,” he said.