SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chairman Saheb!

Dinshaw Mehta Takes Over As BPP
They say when you really want something, the whole universe conspires to give it to you -- despite the conspiracies hatched against you!
Today at noon, when the newly-elected BPP Board met for the very first time, Dinshaw Mehta sat in the Chairman's seat.
We are told it was the most natural thing for him to do since he is, by convention, the rightful occupant of the position, by virtue of seniority, having completed two successful previous terms as Trustee.
BPP CEO Mehli Colah confirmed later that when the new Board met, Dinshawji was appointed Chairman.
Carrying the mandate of the community as he does, may he now lead us with the vision and the sagacity that we so sorely need.
We wish him the very best for the seven years ahead. Do you have ideas, suggestions, expectations or a road-map for the new Chairman and his team?
Post them on the blog, or email me (, and I'll put them forward. This is, after all a 'People's Punchayet', voted in through Universal Adult Franchise. The community has given them its vote -- now the Chairman and his team must honour its committment to act in our best interest at all times.

Final Results

This is the final tally of votes as polled at the BPP Elections 2008 by all 32 candidates:

1 Arnavaz Jal Mistry - 10030
2 Dinshaw Rusi Mehta - 6791
3 Jimmy Rusi Mistry - 6588
4 Khojeste Pudam Mistree - 5292
5 Yazdi Hosi Desai - 5101
6 Rustom Sheriar Tirandaz - 4790
7 Noshir Homi Dadrawala - 4681

8 Nadir Ardeshir Modi - 4648

9 Ketayun Ardeshir Dinshaw - 4601

10 Manek Hormusjee Engineer - 4224

11 Keki Minoo Mistry - 4109

12 Bomi Darasha Kavina - 3828

13 Shirin Dara Choksey - 3752

14 Muncherji Nusserwanji Cama - 3634

15 Byram Nanabhoy Jeejeebhoy - 3391

16 Phiroze Cawasji Amroliwalla - 2719

17 Danesh Kaikhushroo Nejadkay - 1622

18 Urvax Kekhashru Dhanda - 1239

19 Dr. Syrus Darvish Irani - 1211

20 Ervad Framroze Sohrabji Mirza - 1048

21 Tehmtan Jamshedji Dumasia - 935

22 Viraf Jehangir Kapadia - 924

23 Kuresh Behram Zorabi - 661

24 Darayus Behram Kabraji - 645

25 Adil Dinshaw Irani - 603

26 Er. Yezdi Pestonji Framji Panthaki - 494

27 Tehmasp Rustomji Mogul - 435

28 Farrokh Pheroze Munsiff - 211

29 Kersi Minocher Patel - 205

30 Yazdi Framroze Madon - 200

31 Cyrus Aspi Patel - 169

32 Sarosh Nadirshaw Gandhi - 164

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BPP Gets it’s ‘Super Seven’!

From left to right: Rustom Tirandaz, Dinshaw Mehta, Khojeste Mistree, Arnavaz Mistry, Yazdi Desai, Noshir Dadrawala, Jimmy Mistry

What a historic moment for the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), the apex body of the Zoroastrian community, when its new Board of seven Trustees, voted in by the first-ever Universal Adult Franchise, was declared this evening at the packed-to-capacity Banaji Atash Behram Hall.

The ‘Super Seven’ comprises Arnavaz Mistry (10030 votes), Dinshaw Mehta (6791 votes), Jimmy Mistry (6588 votes), Khojeste Mistry (5292 votes), Yazdi Desai (5101 votes), Rustom Tirandaz (4790 votes) and Noshir Dadrawala (4681 votes).

The new Board is to assume office at noon on October 23, at the BPP office at Fort. The community can now heave a sigh of relief that weeks of frenzied duelling for the seven seats is now finally over – and the life can hopefully return to normal again!

The grand finale, however, was not without its nail biting moments. Until well into the afternoon, the situation seemed static, with the same candidates in the lead, in exactly the same order. Then, slowly, once the Dadar ballot boxes were opened, the picture began changing.

Dr. Ketayun Dinshaw started slipping from seventh place, and Rustom Tirandaz (who had been at that slot a day ago) returned. Not only did he consolidate his place there, he then jumped up the queue to sixth place, putting Noshir Dadrawala at seven. Nadir Modi, who has been a respected community stalwart, and was one of the popular candidates in the reckoning, finished close behind Dadrawala at 4648 votes.

The people’s verdict is, necessarily, reflective of the people’s pulse. And there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind now that the community has given a clear vote for tradition and traditionalists.

Dinshaw Mehta and the WAPIZ duo of Khojeste Mistree and Yazdi Desai are confirmed religious conformists, as is Rustom Tirandaz, an old associate of Mehta and a former BPP Trustee.

Arnavaz Mistry is an acclaimed social worker, with her heart in the right place, and this explains the overwhelming faith placed in her with a record 10,000 plus votes. Jimmy Mistry is the new kid-on-the-block, raring to get the community going, but also a traditionalist who has affirmed “I’m 100 per cent orthodox” (in an earlier interview with your columnist).

That leaves the sole representative of the AFP in the BPP, Noshir Dadrawala. He has long been admired for his religious scholarship and writings, and for being a traditionalist, something he defended time and again during the election when his leanings were called into question.

The mood was upbeat, as the newly-elected Trustees exulted in their victory. It was especially heartening to see Khojeste Mistry and Noshir Dadrawala, whose WAPIZ and AFP, respectively, have been gunning for each other these past weeks, shaking hands and promising to work together harmoniously. Both confirmed they meant it when they said, “Let bygones be bygones.”

This is the spirit with which the new Trustees must assume office. The community has been riddled with rift, and sorely needs a healing touch. The new Board must endeavour to act cohesively, placing the interests of the community in housing, education, old age care, and welfare above petty politicking. They should also be determined to respect the people’s verdict and last out the seven-year term without drama. The community cannot afford another election.

BPP Poll Counting

DAY 3, in progress
Vote counting is in progress and just post-lunch this was the tally:
1. Arnavaz Mistry - 8,398 votes
2. Dinshaw Mehta - 5,898 votes
3. Jimmy Mistry - 5,392 votes
4. Khojeste Mistree - 4,622 votes
5. Yazdi Desai - 4,460 votes
6. Noshir Dadrawalla - 4,049 votes
7. Dr. Ketayun Dinshaw - 3,912 votes

The Dadar boxes have just been opened. These are the last lot of boxes remaining, so results will finally come in later this evening. Until then...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Avhe Poll Khulech!

Results on Day 2
Counting was still progressing when this post was published, so there are bound to be changes by the time they close for the day (which, I was told, could be around 2 a.m. or even later). The Banaji Astash Behram Hall is to be vacated on Thurday morning for a wedding, one is told, so they are hurrying up to finish the counting by tomorrow evening.

The Khareghat, Rustom Baug, and Cusrow Baug boxes are all done. The votes from the Andheri boxes were being counted at the time this was written (just after midnight).

The results are as follows:
1. Arnavaz Mistry - 6410 votes
2. Dinshaw Mehta - 4646 votes
3. Jimmy Mistry - 4003 votes
4. Khojeste Mistree - 3631 votes
5. Yazdi Desai - 3509 votes
6. Noshir Dadrawalla - 3040 votes
7. Dr. Ketayun Dinshaw - 2935 votes
will keep you posted....

Monday, October 20, 2008

Avhe Poll Khulse…

Results at the End of Day 1
The moment of reckoning has arrived. At a little past two p.m. on October 20, at the Banaji Atash Behram Hall, the counting of the ballots began with the Khareghat boxes being opened first. At the end of the day, the leads were as follows:

Arnavaz Mistry – 1704 votes
Dinshaw Mehta – 1349 votes
Jimmy Mistry – 1120 votes
Khojeste Mistry – 1006 votes
Yazdi Desai – 913 votes
Shirin Choksey – 767 votes
Bomi Kavina – 756 votes

Of course, this shall be subject to change day by day, and later minute by minute. Following close on the heels are Noshir Dadrawalla (737 votes) and Dr. Ketayun Dinshaw (695 votes). The community has cast its verdict. Now, we eagerly await the unfolding results…

Why are the Parsis spoiling for a fight?

By the time dusk fell over the Dadar Parsi Colony on Sunday, some 13,500 Parsi/Irani Zoroastrians had cast their votes at the various centres where the BPP election was conducted over three weekends (all the way from South Mumbai to the suburbs). From a total of approximately 27,000 registrations, making allowances for some duplications and migrations, a ball-park fifty per cent turn out ratio is not bad at all.

The Parsis got into the mood of the moment and, mayhem apart, made sure they exercised their franchise, including the elderly and infirm, who infamously made it to the front page of the ‘Mumbai Mirror’ in an expose that shocked the community.

Clearly, this election has not brought out the best in us, and it will take us some time to live its disruptive despair down. Neither is there any sense in repeating all that repulsed us – the dirty tricks, the mudslinging, the brash money power that was flaunted in everybody’s face by any candidate who could afford to do so, the complete absence of a code of conduct – none of which should resurface at future elections.

But the whole point of problems is that their solutions should be worked upon, in as agreeable and ethical a manner as possible – and in a way that does credit to the reputation of Parsis as an educated and enlightened community.

Irreconcilable Ideologies
It is now as clear as the sky on a cloudless October morning that the community is split wide open. There are, among the various issues we are wrestling with, the predominantly pugnacious one of divisive beliefs.

Any hope of a reasonable rapprochement between the traditionalists and the reformists has been scuttled by reported incidents of intimidation and violence. Reports that came in from Dadar on Sunday were shocking, with police complaints being registered and the protagonists (key players from both factions) playing the inevitable blame game.

Since we were not eye witnesses to the incident, it becomes impossible to pass judgement, except that when prominent people get embroiled in unsavoury episodes, that involve allegations of aggression, it sends disturbing signals through the community. Most of us are, today, just befuddled bystanders awaiting the return of better sense, as the slanging bouts rage on.

But symptomatic eruptions are only manifestations of an underlying malaise. And we know what it is. When two diametrically disparate ideologies are struggling to dominate, the community is going to be continually pulled in two different directions. The vicious wear and tear of this power struggle is wearing us out, however well disguised it may be.

On the face of it, everybody in this election has committed themselves to upholding tradition and respecting the religion by rejecting conversion and cremation. Huge amounts have been spent in order to ostensibly advertise the intention to abide by the faith, because it was, perhaps, discovered that the electorate is largely conservative and not in the mood for radical reform.

So, many erstwhile agendas were quickly cloaked, as Born-Again ‘Believers’ did a ‘radical’ roundabout turn from their reformist mission and swore, no less, that personal preferences would never be allowed to impinge upon the Punchayet.

Brave words – and ones we are willing to take at face value – but it will be interesting to see exactly how these promises play out. Because if everybody is admittedly on the same ideological page, why is there so much discord?

Enlightened Leadership
Will these elections really give the community what it needs: enlightened leadership that can weld the warring factions into a working partnership? Or is this an idealistic pipedream?

Perhaps, we need to look outside of ourselves, since the global village is now a universal phenomenon. Extremism only breeds terrorism, and partnership creates prosperity. Can people with differing points of view be brought to common ground, for the greater good of the community?

Here is where we need dynamic leaders, who can rise above politics, power play and see the larger picture. The High Priests have to play a more proactive role. And, for this, the community has to respectfully solicit their guidance because on matters of religion, which are so crucial to resolving our conflicts and, in the long run, will determine our survival, there is no better authority we could defer to than the learned High Priests.

For too long have we marginalised them and, in the absence of our real leaders (the High Priests along with other right thinking elders who can chart a unifying vision), virtually anybody with a loud voice jumps up and appoints himself a wannabe leader, demanding obeisance to freely express opinions that are often absurd.

And, ultimately, if East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, can we at least agree to live and let live? Or maybe even disagree a little more agreeably, without an obsessive desperation to dominate, because through these ongoing conflicts nobody is convincing anyone, anyway – and, eventually, we just may have to go our own separate ways. A chronically dysfunctional marriage has to end in divorce.

But, before that, can an earnest attempt at least be made to harmonise the two sides and see if we can emerge more cohesive again?

Perhaps, Dinshaw Mehta, who is, by all accounts, foremost in the reckoning as the next BPP President, and who has been recently declared by some as the Brand Ambassador for “Fevicol”, could attempt, with his new Board of Trustees, to stick together the unstuck hinges on both sides – jaraa barobar, “Fevicol” saathe!

Seriously, the new BPP Board owes to it to community to at least try and bring back some amity into our messy midst again. Before another brawl breaks out…

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An ‘Independent’ Point of View

As the BPP election winds down, with the grand finale this weekend at the Dadar Parsi Colony (the bastion of the community), an interminable journey over a very bumpy road will come to a welcome halt.

But before we bound out in relief and block the bizarre shenanigans out, there are many lessons to be learnt – and it will be to our peril if we ignore them. To make some sense of the nonsense that has consumed us, will be an important exercise in self-examination. And one that will have to be undertaken, if the unique Universal Adult Franchise scheme is to evolve into a more mature exercise.

Right now, perhaps, it would be interesting to look at the elections through the eyes of a few of the independent candidates, who decided to brave the ballot brouhaha solo, for reasons best known to them, having neither the backing nor the big bucks that some of the lead players do.

The two rival groups are actually quite insulated. Despite their combative positions, and whether you or I agree with their ideology or not, the hurly burly of the election makes little or no difference to them as they have powerful, mega money-bag backers, and a well-cultivated constituency they are catering to, whose support they can count upon.

A few (very few) of the independent candidates are persons of affluent means and they, too, are well ensconced in their wealth, having the infrastructure in place to conduct a campaign that costs a lot – in terms of time, energy and money.

But what of those who are attempting to paint on a very large canvas, with a very small easel? The majority of candidates (18 according to our estimate), who are doing this more as a solitary endeavour, with rationed resources, hoping to be the dark horses who will bolt past the finishing line and find themselves favoured with victory? Well, their surprise will be as great as ours!

And while we wish each of the candidates, irrespective of affiliation or intention, the very best in this last phase of the polls, because a democratic process is so much larger than our own preferences and perceptions, we focus on a few independents, to see how the election has been treating them…

Phiroze Amroliwalla
“This isn’t my first election. I contested in 1993, when there were two vacancies and 1600 voters. I was an Independent candidate even then. I believe in being independent as I don’t like to get influenced by anybody on issues – the good of the community matters above all else. Trusteeship means not violating the trust of the community. I was among the first to pioneer Universal Adult Franchise – it was on my 1993 manifesto. It hasn’t quite worked out the way I would’ve wanted it to. I had asked for a fresh voter register, based on proof of address and identity. The BPP has merely taken the existing register, with many people who have passed away or migrated still on it, and there’s no authentic data bank available within the community regarding the electorate – their age group, professions and so on. We also don’t have a Code of Conduct.

“The liberty to spend crores affects the chances of independent candidates. My time and integrity is worth more that the crores many others have spent. I’m not a consumer product to be marketed – the way some candidates are being pitched to the public. I have 25 yrs of social work behind me. I would like to join the community in asking certain candidates, ‘What is there in the BPP board room that you are spending crores to get in?’ I have hardly spent a lakh, and feel I have overspent! It’s my own money, no donor, group or company is subsidising me. My cost per vote is hardly 10 rupees – for others it’s thousands of rupees. I’m disappointed candidates feel the need to spend so much. You must earn your votes – not buy them.”

Rustom Tirandaz
“For me, as an independent candidate, the single biggest disappointment is that a ‘dirty tricks department’ has been working overtime through the Parsi press, and they have ganged up against one man – Dinshaw Mehta. This has made me sad. But Adult Franchise is a great phenomenon. On the first day, 500 people went back without voting. I could never have imagined this happening in the past! The enthusiasm has galvanised and unified the community.

“After 41 years in public life, and after having been a BPP Trustee in the past, I need to just let people know I am in the fray today. I don’t have to give dinner, lunch and breakfast to anybody. I’d much rather not become a Trustee, if this is how it has to be done. My ball game is different. I don’t have to prove my bonafides.

“But all things said and done, Parsis have high personal integrity. The BPP employees may not be very well paid, but they have the highest integrity. Some candidates fear rigging, duplication of votes and so on, but I think our people have a conscience. Parsis don’t cheat.

“Lastly, look at how people are coming out to vote in such large numbers! This proves without doubt that the BPP is the real world body of Zoroastrians. Now, nobody can ever claim to be representing a world body because all those world bodies put together will not have 27,000 Zoroastrian members, like the BPP does!”

Urvax Dhanda
“Because there is no Code of Conduct, independent candidates like myself are facing lots problems. Since the bigger players are spending so much money, we too are being compelled to stretch our resources and are getting dragged into making exorbitant expenses over these elections. In earlier elections, this was never there.

“I am also upset with the manner in which they are conducting the elections. Pre-marked or ‘crossed’ ballot papers are surfacing. Once it can be a mistake, or even twice or thrice, but more than that and we are beginning to suspect foul play. When we bring this to the notice of the Election President, it is just dismissed.

“At Bharucha Baug, last Sunday, the box with fresh ballots papers, that should come sealed, came with the seal broken. The Election President did not allow us to do even a random check to see if the ballot papers inside were not tampered with. The attitude of the Election President is very disheartening. Right in the beginning many of us had complained about this, but no notice was taken. Independent candidates are just ignored and taken for granted. As a result, most of us have lost faith in this election – although we are fighting to the finish. Even many voters are keeping away because they wonder what is the use of coming to out vote if there could be rigging and people who haven’t been voted for end up in the Punchayet? But the good thing of being an Independent is the support one gets from the community – they seem quite fed up of the ‘groups’. ”

Dr. Kuresh Zorabi
“Having contested political elections before, since I am from the Nationalist Congress Party, I find this BPP election rather amusing. There are many malpractices. When we try to point them out, as independents, our voice is not heard. As it is, many of us find the Election President rather biased towards one group. Firstly, all campaigning should have ceased 48 hours prior to the elections. Here you have candidates almost following voters into the booths, trying to influence them, induce them, offer them food and goodies. It is like a mela!

“There was no need to take so many weeks over it, either. They should have had it over one weekend, and declared the results within a week. We have become a joke. In political circles I keep getting asked, ‘Parsi log ka election kabhi finish hoga!’ We are a small community, and our election process cannot take four weeks. People are just getting fed up – both the voters and the candidates. Whenever the elections are held next, there needs to be a proper Code of Conduct so that in the future we do a better job of the elections.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

To the Polls, the Parsis go…

And so it has come to pass that the Parsis are in the throes of the polls. America shall follow some weeks later, and the barrage of candidates, still landing up at our doorsteps, almost has us wondering whether Barack Obama might come campaigning into our baugs – loudspeaker and food packets in hand! With elections in the air, just about anything can happen. And we Parsis are quite a constituency – small in numbers, but certainly not insignificant.

The tremendous Parsi zeal to overcome the odds was in full evidence on both weekends, especially as on the first day at Khareghat Colony people stood in queues for up to three hours to validate their votes. The teething trouble miraculously vanished overnight, and thereafter all has been calm on the bawa front… Are you kidding! Not a day goes by without some squeamish skirmish.

But despite the glitches, the good thing is we’re getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. This election has really been crucial for the community, and it’s heartening to see such strong numbers coming out to give their vote and participate in a democratic exercise that will enable us to chart the course ahead.

Of course, we’re reminded of that fateful flight from Persia, over a thousand years ago, so starkly and strikingly shown on stage recently by Mallika Sarabhai in the dance drama, ‘And Then They Came to India’, courtesy Dr. Villoo Morawala Patel’s Avesthagen.

And, we wonder, as we negotiate through turbulent waters today, what would those few shiploads of our ancestors be thinking and feeling about these elections – if they could? Would they wonder whether all their hardship, their travels and travails through hell and high water, had been worth the while? After all, they too could have inter-married, converted, and adopted alternate methods of disposal then and there in Persia, and spared themselves the trouble of charting an unknown course to India. And we wouldn’t even be fighting today, divided into our contentious and combative camps, because we would have become a footnote in history as the race that committed genetic hara-kiri.

Are we on the verge of committing heretic hara-kiri, a thousand-odd years later? That would be a shame. But with the community out to vote in such large numbers, one is hopeful. What has kept us going all along, through the best and worst of times, is our unflinching faith. If we can hold on to it, as we have in the past, and make a wise choice, even as we head into the last of our ‘voting weekends’, the huge effort and expense of holding these elections will be vindicated.

Calling GenNext
The average voter profile appears to be tilting in favour of the older segment within the community. Not too many young faces are seen. What could be the reason? Is it apathy? We know of several friends and contemporaries who just never got round to getting themselves registered. Reason – too busy, not interested, plain lethargy.

Another explanation could be the miserable manner in which community elders are conducting themselves, with hate campaigns circulating relentlessly. Many young people just don’t see the point of partaking in a process that has struck such a discordant, dismal note. To enthuse the youth, the focus will have to shift from antagonism to idealism, from bitter to better agendas.

Vote for me…
Campaigning appears to be continuing almost all the way into the balloting booth. It’s amusing to see some candidates rushing to greet voters and hissing numbers at them – hoping this last ditch effort will enable a ‘cross’ to be cast in their favour.

Surely most people who’re coming in to vote have already decided who to pick, and such blatant attempts at self-promotion would be in vain? At any rate, some code of conduct should be put in place at the election venue at least.

What’s on the menu?
Trust the Parsis to turn almost anything into a party. While there are differences of opinion on everything under the sun within the community, there’s utter unanimity when it comes to eating.

Food packets are virtually being passed around along with the ballot papers. At every venue, there’s a new menu! On Sunday, at Andheri’s Bharucha Baug, there was falooda and fortune cookies, in addition to other heavy snacks. Do Parsis think better on a full stomach? You bet!

Sinners v/s Saints
In the ultimate analysis, nobody’s perfect. Yesterday’s heroes are today’s villains – and tomorrow’s heroes again – depending upon which paper you’re reading. Virtues are exaggerated and shortcomings amplified, to the point where minute molehills start resembling entire mountains ranges.

One keeps having to sift the chaff from the grain and, frankly, it’s getting exhausting. It will be a good thing when the elections conclude this Sunday. At least some overworked imaginations will get some rest – and the community a break from all the bilious bickering.

Just in jest
Apropos of a hoarding Mumbai woke up to last week – it seems it was a bit disconcerting and disappointed quite a few Parsis, who don’t particularly enjoy community matters being put out into the public domain.

To quickly paraphrase, we’re told the hoarding went – ‘Vote for AFP: Na na…’

Oops! Are we mistaken? Perhaps it was – ‘Vote for AFP: Na na… Chudasama!’

Whatever it may have been, poor Mr. Chudasama, the genial do-gooder, misguidedly got embroiled in the pot-boiler of Parsi politics. He should, at the very outset, have said Na na

Monday, October 6, 2008

Meet Rustom Hormazdiyar: BPP's Bristling Election President!

Rustom Hormazdiyar faces the prospect of an exceptionally onerous October. As Election President for the first-ever BPP ballot by Universal Adult Franchise, he is overseeing voting, over three consecutive weekends, by the Parsi community across the city, and the eventual declaration of results by the twenty-seventh of this month.

Several issues have already arisen: his alleged partisan stance, chaos on the first day, a few pre-marked ballot papers, and no code of conduct, in the absence of which campaigning continues almost all the way into the ballot booths, smear attacks against candidates persist, and big money continues to be splashed to impress and entice voters.

In a bid to ensure that fairness and transparency is maintained throughout the election process, Rustom Hormazidiyar, although self-effacing and a confessed “introvert”, agreed to be interviewed. It must be conceded that despite the reservations of some candidates, there would be few takers for his job!

You are in the saddle again. Tell us a bit about past BPP elections…
The first time I was invited to preside over the BPP elections was in 1981. Back then, there was a movement in the Parsi community to reform electoral practices. Previously, the Trustees were elected by the ‘Sau nu mandal’ – or a group of 100 people, which was later expanded into an Electoral College.

Even in 1981 there were two rival groups, one of which was the Committee of Electoral Reforms (CER) – a radical group wanting reform within the community. At the time, B.K. Boman-Behram, the then Chairman of the BPP, appointed me Election President – he was staunchly orthodox in his views.

Jamshed Kanga and others in the CER questioned my appointment. They thought I would be prejudiced against them because Boman-Behram had appointed me, and since he was orthodox I would be orthodox too (nothing is further from the truth – I am completely modern in my views!).

That year Boman-Behram became Mayor of Bombay and the elections were very vexing – the CER made his life miserable. He got a heart attack. Caring little, the CER continued to harass him. There was an erroneous perception in the community that he was corrupt and took money for allotting flats. But Boman-Behram was a man of sterling integrity. Lady Cowasji Jehangir, who was the BPP Chairman before him, said at the felicitation held in his honour at Cusrow Baug that she firmly believed his middle name was integrity – such was her faith in him. He was venerated by all other communities except Parsis.

Why the persistent allegation that you are pro-AFP in this election?
I’ve got friends in the AFP, some of who were very anti Boman-Behram in the 1981 elections and accused me of being his man. But I am nobody’s man. I am the man picked for preserving the election’s sanctity, which has to be maintained at any cost. Boman-Behram knew I was impartial and would not take anybody’s side. Even this time when I was appointed, a lot of efforts were made to malign me, but five of the six Trustees stood by me.

Since 1981, every time there has been a BPP election, they have invited me as the Election President (except in 1993, when I was abroad). I am totally independent and refuse to take sides. I have never voted in any election, because I did not belong to the Electoral College. This June, I donated Rs. 25,000 to become a Donor Member under the new scheme, but I have no intention of voting for anybody. When they asked me what my donation was for I said jocularly: “For a crematorium at Doongerwadi!”

I have contributed to the Doongerwadi Fund because it costs a lot to consign a body at the Doongerwadi, and the fund is always in a deficit. We Parsis have become too dependent on the BPP for everything from birth to death, and expect it to subsidise our lives, while many of its Trust suffer deficits. So I thought of contributing to the Doongerwadi trust. Personally, though, I have no problems with a crematorium coming up at Doongerwadi.

How will you ensure neutral supervision of the elections in these trying times?
You cannot convincingly prove to anybody that you are honest. People jump to conclusions without any evidence. If I was supposedly partial to Boman-Behram (who was a staunch orthodox) in 1981, how can I be partial to the AFP (who are just the opposite) today? Lack of understanding and often no attempt at understanding is the root of the trouble in our community.

In 1981 I changed the counting procedure. Both Chairman Boman-Behram and CEO Anklesaria said the CER would pounce on me. I said, let them. I go by the People’s Representation Act 1951 on all points where the BPP Act is silent. A private election scheme cannot have all points covered in its Act.

Tampered ballot papers have been surfacing?
I will explain exactly what happened at Khareghat Colony (where the allegation of tampered ballot papers arose), when all 32 candidates are before me at the time of counting the ballots. We are an alarmist community. Let your conscience be the final arbiter, is what I believe in. Forget about anybody’s opinion – it does not matter to me. I am now 81-years-old, how much longer will I live? What good will tinkering with the election process do to me?

What about the safety of the ballot boxes?
They are secure in a ‘strong room’ and we have totally ensured their safety. They are sealed in the presence of the candidates, who will also be present at the time of breaking the seal open.

What process is in place to count the votes fairly and squarely?
We will conduct the entire exercise at Khareghat Colony. All the candidates will be present. People are fearing the worst and attributing motives to everybody. Even a saint would have been doubted in these circumstances. What is at stake? Seven Trustees you can get rid of seven years later – or even take to court, in the interim, if you are unhappy with their functioning. I am fed up with all this mud-slinging.

You’re obviously upset over the current allegations. But by your own admission you were attacked in 1981 also…
My conscience is clear, although I am considered to be a very eccentric Parsi! But I believe no Election President can be partisan – or he must be dropped like a hot potato. I have a track record of 28 years; nobody can match it. Prior to my retirement, I was General Manager and Company Secretary with Ahura Chemicals for 22 years. People know what I am about. But nobody is perfect, and neither am I. I have stopped expecting people to change, because I cannot change myself.

Who are the key people in your team?
I have two scrutineers, who remain in the presence of the ballot boxes all along. They guide the voters. After the election process they will help to pick out ballot papers, which are invalid. This should be done prior to the counting process, but this will be resented by some candidates. We can’t appease every one. We will follow certain practices. The computerised results, as they are counted vote by vote, will be watched by the candidates. It will take some days to count thousand of votes. Results will be declared by October 27.

How come there is no code of conduct?
Do you have to be told to behave honestly? The unfortunate part is the BPP never envisioned somebody would come out and splash such big money. Ordinarily, this is called an election malpractice. But why are so-called educated Parsis falling for it? Are they so hungry that they require a free dinner? There is an umbilical connection between Parsis and food! Yes, practises have to be framed for electioneering.

The first day fiasco upset many…
At Khareghat Colony we had restraints of space and we were slightly delayed, because of which there was a huge queue. I am sorry about that. This never happens generally. All arrangements are handled by the BPP – I’ve nothing to do with them and am not supposed to organise them. But the next day at Rustom Baug was very smooth.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Calling all Parsi Voters, Your Attention Please...

D-day is here – the first of three successive ‘voting weekends’, which will bring us our ‘Super Seven’ for the brand new BPP board! By now, much murky water has flown under the bridge and the reflections we’ve been seeing of many a candidate, courtesy the conjectures made by rivals, are rather morbid.

Not surprisingly, most Parsis are incessantly asking: Who do we vote for?

There is confusion, uncertainty and apprehension. Many people are finding it difficult to pick seven straight aces from a pack comprising quite some jokers! However, it is our contention that we should desist from getting personal.
While expressing a point of view is perfectly valid, attacking another person isn’t. Everybody is entitled to follow their own path. It’s only when this jeopardises our faith that we must protest, not against the person, per se, but against the path he/she is pushing us to pursue.

Every determined Zoroastrian who stays steadfast to the faith is Ahura Mazda’s soldier – and His army can never be vanquished. Each voter today is one such soldier, and needs to value the unique gift that has been bestowed upon us through Universal Adult Franchise.

To make an unwise decision would be to let down future generations, because the wrong people within the apex body will set the wrong agenda that will undo centuries of our unique and lustrous lineage, and the standing of our community, which has to be preserved, without cutting corners.

So, who do we vote for? The answer is simple: Let us vote for those who are completely committed to preserving the faith, without any compromise. We need to vote into power people who have, time and again, defended the many pillars of Zoroastrianism, including Dokhmenashini, not merely by empty words, but by actions that have upheld its sanctity, even as they have worked toward strengthening this esteemed institution.
Yes, we need to vote for people who have not succumbed to the pressure of supporting the demand for a ‘Cremate ni Bunglee’ at Doongerwadi, because that was never the intention of the Settlors when they created a community haven for Dokhmenashini. This, however, isn’t the only issue.

We need to vote for people who are not pro-conversion, and be very wary of those who talk about ‘Parsi-panu’ rather glibly on public platforms (but are actually supporting agencies that are setting up so-called ‘Cosmopolitan agiaries’). The purity of our agiaries is paramount, and opening them up unwisely will only accelerate intermarriages and the final decimation of our fold. In olden days, even if five Parsis went to a small town in India, the wealthiest among them established an agiary, a dar-e-meher, or a dadgah in the house.
They survived in very small numbers in the remotest Indian outposts (Kanpur, Agra, Allepi, Hubli and so on), only because they were staunch. How can we, today, slight their sacrifices by suggesting that what they did was old-fashioned and we need to “move with the times” instead?

On the contrary, we need to vote for people who have worked with, and will continue to work with, and not against, the learned High Priests, whose guidance on religious matters is crucial to our community.

This humble submission is placed before you: If you have a medical problem, won’t you go to a top doctor? If your accounts are a mess, will you not take the advice of competent Chartered Accountant? If you need to build a bungalow or redo your home, won't you engage an architect/interior designer? Then why is it that on religious matters we don’t go to our learned High Priests (the best possible experts on the subject), but allow a section of the lawyer lobby to lead us into the Courts instead, where mostly non-Parsi judges (with the greatest respect to them) are expected to deliver religious interpretations of our ancient and sacred faith?

Think about it. We need to save our community from such misguided litigation and the consequences thereof. We most certainly need to vote in new Trustees who will stand firm by the faith. And not sympathise with all those who want to scratch their private itches publicly, while inflicting open wounds upon the community, expecting the courts to then embalm their aberrations!

We need to vote into the BPP Trustees who have done some service to the community, which has served our best interests, because past performance is a good judge of whether future promises will be borne – or still born.

Accelerated education for our youth, empowering them professionally, encouraging marriages within the community at an earlier age (with a focus to facilitate a two-child family, with some childcare infrastructure in the baugs), looking after the aged, and a vibrant agenda that energises the community is the need of the hour.
We need Trustees who can deliver this. And, there’s no reason why, with the community’s support, they can’t.

Carefully, thoughtfully, and with a prayer, we need to cast our votes – for progress, along with preservation. Let us have a BPP Board that will bode well for our community and our religion. All else will follow. Because if we lose our religion and Zoroastrian ethos, nothing else will matter.

PS: The picture atop this blog is of the ruins of Persepolis. The Parsis lost all they had in Persia. Will the same happen in India again, if people who aren’t committed to the faith get elected as Trustees and end up destroying our legacy… one sincerely hopes not.