SHERNAAZ ENGINEER's blog on the Parsi community
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…
“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.”
“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!”
“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.”