The Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) elections got off to a tumultuous start on Saturday with scuffles and allegations of electoral malpractic
The first round took place at Kharegat Colony on Hughes Road. Out of approximately 22,000 registered voters, close to 2,500 showed up. Many of them got restive standing for hours in serpentine queues and blamed organisers for slowing the voting process. Jehangir Gai, a columnist who writes on consumer issues, stood for over two hours to cast his vote.
Having to stand for long was a minor complaint compared to what happened to the 25-year-old daughter of Firoza Punthakey Mistree and religious scholar Khojeste Mistree in the afternoon. Firoza Mistree says that when she stood on a chair to film an altercation taking place between members of two rival groups, Zarir Jehangirji, a member of the group Adult Franchise for Progress and one of those involved in the fight, roughly pulled her off the chair. “He could have said, `Please get down,’ ” says Mistree. “My daughter was screaming, `Let me go’. She’s now hurt her back and we’ve sent her to the hospital for an x-ray.”
Mistree called the chairman of the BPP, Minoo Mistry, to complain about the incident and got an unexpected response. “He said you should have had your own security,” she says. “Have we come to this goondaraj? I’m shocked beyond belief. We Parsis have a wonderful reputation of gentlemanliness. These people have shown none.” The Mistrees filed a complaint at the Gamdevi police station.
The other event that had voters up in arms involved BPP officials issuing ballots already marked in favour of AFP candidates to a few senior citizens who had trouble with their eyesight. Suspecting that the AFP was attempting to take advantage of their infirmity, Gai says, many voters demanded that the elections be stopped and fresh ones held. Dinshaw Mehta, an independent candidate and former trustee, says that four such ballots were confiscated. “We don’t know how many more were there,” he says. However social activist Mehernosh Fitter points out that it was a genuine mistake on the part of the election officer in charge, who found it difficult to focus on the elections with such a large, edgy crowd. It didn’t help matters when members of a group watching the elections “were jealous that people were not voting for them and started shouting”. He adds: “A man will get nervous. I felt pity for this man. I went and helped him out.”
The BPP elections will be held during three weekends at centres in Byculla, Fort and Andheri. Seven trustees will be elected from a group of 32 candidates. While most of the candidates are independents, some are allied to two major groups, Adult Franchise for Progress and World Alliance for Parsi Irani Zarthostis. This is the first time voting is open to all Parsis above the age of 18 and the run-up to the election has been fraught with politicking and instances of candidates spending large amounts of money to woo voters.
Social activist Firoz Kotwal has even filed a public interest litigation in September against the BPP when he found that several names of people in the list of registered voters had been duplicated. However, some Parsis say that the vulgar turn the elections have taken should not stop them from voting.