On Wednesday night, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) acquired seven new trustees: Arnavaz Jal Mistry, Dinshaw Mehta, Jimmy Mistry,
Khojeste Mistree, Yazdi Hosi Desai, Rustom Tirandaz and Noshir Dadrawala. The freshly elected board members have decided to put an acrimonious election campaign behind them and work towards nurturing their community. Some of the key issues that the board will address are housing, education and propping up the dwindling Parsi population. The chairman of the board is Dinshaw Mehta, the longest serving trustee of the punchayet.
New trustee Khojeste Mistree declared that it helps that the board is ideologically more homogeneous than the outgoing board. Most of the members, said Mistree, a Zoroastrian scholar, are traditional orthodox. He added that the punchayet has to be more “community friendly”. A first step in that direction is a jashn or celebration to which the entire community will be invited. The board will also, he said, soon look into the allotment of punchayet flats, a contentious issue following allegations that those less deserving of housing got flats meant for needier Parsis.
One of the challenges the board faces is overcoming differences that emerged during an election campaign that was tarred by candidates humiliating one another in public and the Parsi press. While most of the trustees are independents, three belong to two rival groups. Mistree and Yazdi Hosi Desai represent World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarathosthis (WAPIZ) while Noshir Dadrawala is a member of Adult Franchise for Progress (AFP). “We’ll have to work on a common minimum programme without bending on core principles,” said Dadrawala. “We began on a very positive note. I took the initiative to bury the hatchet. I said `let’s just hug and make up’.” Mistree said: “The main protagonists have already shaken hands. Mr Dadrawala publicly declared `let us forget the past and work to a better tomorrow’. I’m fairly optimistic that things should fall into place.”
As the BPP election was a public affair for the first time, there is a great deal of expectation from the board. Whereas previously a select group of people would elect the board, this time Parsis above the age of 18 from all over the world were allowed to vote following a high court order. Candidate Firoz Amroliwala, a social activist who lobbied for universal adult franchise, and who lost the election, is upset that the outgoing board never bothered to consult community leaders during the election. As a result, he complained, no code of conduct was formulated and a fresh registration of voters was not carried out. The voter list, he said, is outdated and it’s possible that individuals deliberately or inadvertently registered twice and hence, voted twice. The new trustees, he hopes, will be more responsible.
Voters are equally hopeful that the trustees will deliver on their promises. Consumer activist Jehangir Gai is most impressed by Arnavaz Jal Mistry, who topped the election results with 10,029 votes and said she visited every home in every Parsi colony in the city to campaign. “She is the only person who came house to house and met people,” he said. “She didn’t throw any dinners or parties. She is an individual without any incentive of giving freebies.”