Parsis are not interested in politics anymore

The Parsi community no longer has a say in electoral battles because of their dwindling numbers and apathy towards politics. But in the last century many Parsis were at the forefront of state and national politics, some of them stalwarts during the Independence movement.

Article by Nauzer Bharucha | Times News Service

As Maharashtra gears up for elections, there is not a single candidate from this miniscule community. Experts say the Parsis don’t have the numbers to make a difference. They have no base in any constituency in Mumbai, which has the highest number of Parsis in the world (under 45,000). Congress corporator Noshir Mehta is the only elected politician from the community today after the death of Rustom Tirandaz in 2008 and Congress MLA and state minister Marzban Patrawala in 1999. After Patrawala’s demise, his wife Dinaz won the assembly elections on a Shiv Sena ticket from Colaba but she disappeared from the scene once her term was over.

“Parsis are not interested in politics. They feel marginalised compared to a time till the 1950s when many of them were part of the mainstream across parties,” said Nawaz Mody, former head of Mumbai university’s department of civics and politics. They do not find adequate representation in the political arena and their dwindling numbers and lack of mass base prohibit their emergence as elected leaders, she added.

Mehta, a four-term corporator, said no one from the community wants to dirty his hands. “They will donate money and help the downtrodden but nothing beyond that,” he said.

Milind Deora, former Congress MP from south Mumbai, which has the largest concentration of Parsi voters (around 18,000), observed that an average Parsi will not compromise on principles. “They deliberately stir clear of politics,” he said. “Decades ago, politics was driven by intellectual debates and discussions. The dynamics have changed today and money power is a major factor,” Deora added.

The community was shocked when in the 1970s the late Naval Tata (Ratan Tata’s father) lost the Lok Sabha elections as an independent from south Mumbai

A research scholar pointed out to the internecine tension within the community. “They can’t live in peace with each other. In fact, over the past few decades, the community has retrogressed in its social life. And then you currently have a non-functioning Bombay Parsi Punchayet because of rival groups fighting each other,” he said.

Parsis once had members in the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, state assemblies, councils and municipal corporations. Parsi stalwarts included Cooverji Bhabha, who was the first finance minister in the interim cabinet in the early 1950s. R N Sidhwa, a member of the constituent assembly, was also a member of the team which framed the Indian Constitution. The late Homi Mody was Uttar Pradesh governor, while his son Piloo was a Swatantra Party MP from Gujarat. So was Minoo Masani. In the 1960s, CPI trade union leader Homi Daji was active in Madhya Pradesh. The late B K Boman Behram was mayor of Mumbai, while Naushir Bharucha was a corporator and member of the Bombay Legislative Assembly in the 1950s. Khurshed Nariman (after whom Nariman Point is named) exposed the Backbay Reclamation scandal in the 1920s; was elected mayor in 1935. Other Parsi members in the municipal corporation were Ardeshir Sabavala, Mancherji Joshi, Minocher Bilpodiwalla, Dara Dinshaw Vania and Rusi Mehta.

Sir Dhunjishah Bomanji Cooper became the first prime minister of Bombay in 1937 and had his political base in the Maratha-dominated territory of Satara.

Among the last well-known Parsi politicians was Homi Taleyarkhan, a Congress man who held many important posts.