As Parsi Punchayet poll nears, `political potboiler’ promises action, intrigue

Forget Bihar elections.The real rough and tumble of political battle starts right here in Mumbai as Parsis head for the polls to elect trustees of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) on October 18. The previous elections werre held seven years ago.

Article by Nauzer Bharucha | Times of India

20_09_2015_007_005_012As one commentator recently remarked: “It’s going to be a Parsi political potboiler.“

The general feeling in the tiny community–around 40,000 in Mumbai–is one of disdain as candidates throw their hats in the ring and make pious promises of ushering in transparency and accountability.

The past seven years saw vicious and slanderous slug fests among outgoing trustees. In one instance, a trustee accused his colleague of trying to pick a chair and assault him during a heated argument inside the BPP boardroom–like a comical scene in an Asterix village.

There’s a lot at stake being a BPP trustee. The Punchayet is Mumbai’s largest private landlord, controlling 4,500 flats and land worth several thousand crores. The power of a trustee could be immense.

Recently, the community watched in amusement as some prominent Parsis described the BPP as “a den of thugs“ and swore they would not contest. But days later, in a complete volte face, they changed their minds due to pressure from friends and well-wishers.

Early this month, builder Zarir Bhathena announced: “I have co me to the conclusion that it’s not worth putting up my candidature as there are not enough like-minded people who are forthcoming to file their nomination. My purpose for standing as a trustee is to serve our community and this purpose would not be achieved if there are no like-minded people on the board of trustees. My friends and wellwishers are very well aware that I am not a politician and cannot compromise to achieve political ends.“

Last week, Bhatena had a change of heart, though: “…I have been bombarded with calls and personal visits by reputed members of our community asking me to reconsider my decision not to stand for the elections.“

The builder said he changed his mind after like-minded people too decided to contest.

A couple of weeks ago, a former BPP trustee Noshir Dadrewala proclaimed: “Sorry, but I don’t think the situation in 2015 will be any different from 2008. There may be a few new players but with allegiance to the old feudal lords…The elections are conducted on the lines of a gram punchayet in UP or Bihar with brazen talks of this seat must go to my son or my daughterin-law. The very thought is disgusting…I cannot compromise with crooks to achieve political ends. Sorry, but, let the community get the leadership it deserves.“

Last week, Dadrewala changed his mind, too. “Ever since my statement to withdraw, I have been swamped with calls, messages and emails. Several elder statesmen of the community have even met me personally persuading me to reconsider my decision. Respecting the feelings and aspirations of people that I respect and look up to within the community, I have decided to contest.” Those who have thrown their hats in the ring include a panel of four retired and decorated armed forces personnel comprising major general Soli Pavri, major gene ral Khurshed Balsara, commodore Mike Bhada and squadron leader Minoo Wadia. “All of us have vast experience in administration, man management, disciplined work culture and have been awarded for exceptional devotion to duty,“ said Wadia. Another candidate describes himself as a PhD in Persian astrology, among a slew of achievements in his biodata.

Publisher Maneck Davar, who announced his candidature, said, “In its 334 years, the BPP has never faced a crisis as it has at present, seriously harming the community’s reputation and holding it to ridicule. It is time for a complete overhaul of people and systems.“

Community activist Hushang Vakil said, “One thing for sure is this time people will not, must not, make the grave mistake of re-electing individuals who have proven themselves to be useless no matter how convincing they sound. Must reject old wine packaged in new bottles as that wine has turned really sour.” He added, “The `divorce-honeymoon’ cycle continues to entertain us all. Anything goes nowadays.Sworn enemies of yesterday, friends today. Just to get their vileful scheming going.“

Shernaaz Engineer, editor of Jame Jamshed, a community newspaper, described the forthcoming elections as “full of comedy, tragedy, betrayal, blackmail, age-old rivalries, bitterness and behind-thescenes machinations.“

“One only hopes the BPP potboiler has a happy ending,“ she said in her weekly column.