Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Parsi elections begin today

By Mahafreed Irani

Saturday, October 04, 2008 04:00 IST

For the past one month, 83-year-old Peshotan Unwala has been bombarded with pamphlets. But unlike the usual leaflets announcing the opening of a new store or a sale, these are part of the large scale campaigning undertaken by candidates vying for post of trustees of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP).

For the first time in the history of the Parsi Panchayat, every member of the community, who is above the age of 18, will be able to elect seven trustees of the Parsi self-governing body. Voting will take place on October 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19.

However, the tug-of-war between the candidates has started and the hoopla has made its way into the otherwise quiet Parsi colonies in the city.

Unwala’s favourite Gujarati newspaper hasn’t been spared either. Full page and double-spread advertisements with profiles and details of candidates has become a regular occurrence. “I’m glad I don’t have a cell phone. At least I won’t get messages begging for votes,” said an amused Unwala.

Freelance journalist Shernaaz Engineer compares the heavy election advertising to the US elections. “Conflict is an essential ingredient of human drama, and it spares nobody,” she said.

From bakery owners, builders, and educationists to scions of titled families like the Jeejeebhoys and the Camas, the list of candidates is a dynamic assortment. But, as in all elections, two main groups — Adult Franchise for Progress (AFP), who filed the petition in Bombay high court for universal adult franchise, and World Alliance for Parsi Irani Zarthosthis (Wapiz) — have emerged.

Zoroastrian scholar Khojeste Mistree, a Wapiz candidate, said that his party stood for preserving the past and protecting the future. “We want to bring back the vultures to the Towers of Silence so that our traditions can be kept intact. Also, there is a misconception that Parsis are dwindling in numbers. That is not true. We are a community that has migrated to foreign lands like Australia, Canada and North America,” he said.

“The Parsi population is a shifting population rather than a dwindling one,” he reiterated.

On the other hand, the AFP candidate Muncherji Cama, chairman and MD, Bombay Samachar, and his team members call themselves the reformists and want to bring about socio-economic changes.

Even independent candidates like architect Jimmy Mistry and former trustee of the BPP Dinshaw Mehta are not far behind. Mistry who is known for his flamboyant style is quite popular with the youth, at least he has made sure he is. From camps in Lonavala to dirt bike racing and rock concerts, Mistry is trying modern ways to attract the youth.

Dinshaw Mehta, former member of the BPP, however, hopes that all the campaigning has a happy ending. Like many others, he is also worried that there might be a power struggle within the BPP if the new trustees are ideologically diverse. “The past two years have been difficult because the trustees had different ideologies and agendas,” he explained.

“I wonder if coalition politics will work here as well,” he added.