Parsi-Zoroastrians are preparing to elect a new member to the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), the community’s main representative body, to replace the trustee who resigned last month.
But many members of the community are wondering whether a consensus candidate can be elected to the seat.
A search is on for such a candidate, and groups representing different views in the community have already met to identify a trustee who can bridge the seemingly insurmountable gap between the community’s reformist and orthodox groups.
The 2008 elections to the three century-old trust was the first to feature the concept of universal adult franchise. Unlike earlier polls in which only trust donors could vote, all adult community members could vote in the 2008 election, which was keenly contested by the orthodox and reformists, largely represented by WAPIZ (World Alliance of Parsi-Irani Zoroastrians) and ARZ (Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism).
At that time, six of the seven trustees were from the orthodox group. Trustee Noshir Dadrawala, who resigned on March 31, was from the reformist group. He cited ‘incompatible’ differences with other trustees and unhappiness with the organisation’s management style as reasons for leaving.
Trustees in the BPP, one of the largest land owners in the city, have a seven-year-old term. The trust controls large community housing estates, fire temples and the Towers of Silence cemetery at Malabar Hill. After the 2008 election, there was voting in 2009 to elect a replacement for a trustee who died. The 2008 election was so bitterly fought that questions were raised about the money spent by candidates to ensure a win. The community’s press, too, was divided along the orthodox-liberal lines and featured unflattering profiles and caricatures of candidates.
Many community members felt that there is a certain weariness about elections. Vispy Wadia of ARZ said: “Nobody is ready for another election, especially since it is an expensive affair and often involves handing out freebies, including meals and gifts. There is anyway no code of conduct.”
Dinshaw Mehta, chairman of the BPP, said that talks are on to choose a consensus candidate to avoid such election ill will. “We are having discussions with various groups,” said Mehta. “A lot of bad blood flows during the elections. We will be happy if we can avoid it.”
Apart from WAPIZ and ARZ, other groups are also part of the discussion. One meeting on the issue was held earlier during the week and the names of two prospective candidates were discussed. However, one of the names suggested was not favoured by the orthodox members because he is perceived as a reformist. The elections are scheduled for the last week of June or the first week of July. The BPP is planning to announce April 26 as the cut-off date for the registration of voters. An estimated 28,000 people in Mumbai and outside are eligible to vote.