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A structured success

The presence of the Bangalore chapter at the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce (WZCC) India region’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Bombay this September 16 was a whiff of fresh air. The newest entrant to the all-India body, now in its second year of existence, will be hosting the global AGM in the Karnataka state capital this December. The chapter chair, former Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, listed impressive speakers for the event as well as visits to places of business and tourist interest. He commended the efforts of a young team that brought the chapter into existence and made the hosting of the international meet possible. Entrepreneur and restaurateur Zarine Kharas had taken the initiative to form the chapter after the global AGM in Goa two years ago. While the first chapter chair was Dr Zarir Sholapurwala, at the last AGM of the India region in September 2016, Bangalore was represented by Darius Bharucha.

The community in Bangalore and elsewhere is fortunate that a man who commanded an air force of around 1,40,000 active service personnel ranked the fourth largest in the world, is taking a keen interest in community affairs. In earlier days, all leading Parsis like Dr Dadabhai Naoroji, Jamsetji Tata, Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy and Sir Dinshaw Petit, took an active interest and participated in community affairs. Today, several like the Godrejs, the Mistry family of Shapoorji Pallonji and the Poonawallas generously support community endeavors but because of the time constraints and the endemic politicking, stay away from active participation. Naoroji Godrej was a Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trustee for a short time but resigned due to differences.

But when the likes of Dr Cyrus Poonawalla and Nadir Godrej became involved in resolving the imbroglio over the hosting of the 10th World Zoroastrian Congress in Bombay in 2013, their very presence, standing and financial clout managed to salvage the global meet.

Major was elected president of the Bangalore Parsee Zoroastrian Anjuman on this September 24. There is every chance he will stir Bangalore back into the mainstream of the community. Almost 40 years ago, Bangalore withdrew membership from The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI). When the BPP walked out of the FPZAI in 1978, claiming criticism of its election scheme by Delhi Parsi Anjuman president Shiavax Nargolwala at the 3rd World Zoroastrian Congress in Bombay tantamounted to interference in the working of another anjuman, Bangalore and several others followed suit. But unlike those who returned to the fold, Bangalore stayed out largely due to traditionalist head priest Nadirshah Unvalla’s adamancy along with the support of some orthodox trustees.

The Bangalore Parsis elevated Unvalla to the post of a Dastur, high priest, in contravention of traditions and initial opposition from the other high priests. A dasturship is either hereditary and/or is conferred on the head of an atash behram or a learned scholar. Unvalla was none of these. But later the other dasturs accepted him on account of his orthodoxy. Were Unvalla alive today he would have been all praise for the FPZAI which functions largely as a mouthpiece for the traditionalist World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ) viewpoint. At present, the south zone vice president is a WAPIZ appointee from Belgaum, as Madras is rarely present while Secunderabad-Hyderabad have suspended their membership. Their absence serves the purpose of muting any sizable opposition. The presence of an independent and fearless voice such as Major’s is what the all-India body desperately needs.

The 14th WZCC India meet at the Royal Yacht Club organized by the office bearers was well conducted, pertinent and had competent speakers. The Indian and global organization of the 17-year-old body has managed to remain relevant to the needs of aspiring managers, professionals and entrepreneurs.

In India, Bombay and Poona have been consistent performers for the WZCC, largely on account of the leadership of these chapters and the larger Zoroastrian populations they represent. Abroad several chapters are active.

When so many community institutions flounder and fail, what makes this body tick? There are several reasons, but one that is most likely to explain the relevance is a periodic change of leadership. The founding fathers/mothers wisely stated no committee member could serve more than two terms of three years each. This ensured new entrants could come on board gracefully, without having to oust the old guard. By incorporating such limitations in the constitution/rules, an institution’s chances of survival are heightened. This is not to imply that where there are unlimited terms the organization is doomed, but a structured mechanism for orderly and timely change is a great advantage. One reason why the North American Zoroastrian associations have been so successful and dynamic is because many restrict the number of terms and years office bearers can serve.

The local WZCC chapters in each region hold an AGM while an international AGM is held where all member nations can participate. The global AGM is held every year, with India being the venue every alternate year. These structural provisions give the organization a strong edge over conventional trusts where the trustees are accountable to the Charity Commissioner (CC), an office overburdened with work and understaffed. The resolution of disputes between trustees or between trustees and beneficiaries can linger at the CC for years on end after which there are appeals to the courts. The annual accounts are to be filed every year but some trusts don’t file returns for years on end. They are seldom circulated. There is little or no accountability as far as the beneficiaries are concerned. They may or may not be consulted regarding important decisions pertinent to them. Behaving in a high handed manner strains relations between the trust and those they are supposed to benefit.

Since assuming office in 2015 the new board of BPP trustees have not held a single meeting nor published a single magazine/newsletter mentioning their activities and/or accomplishments. Even the BPP Connect column in the Parsi Times weekly owned by trustee Kersi Randeria has not been published for some time.

Though the FPZAI unlike the BPP is a registered society and bound by the rules and regulations that govern cooperative bodies, the leadership has in recent times flouted the requirement. But despite the flaws, there is some accountability. AGMs are held for the most part as required and accounts are submitted to the member anjumans for scrutiny.

But the functioning of the FPZAI has not been democratic. WAPIZ has appointed all their loyalists and sympathizers to the key posts and squashed dissent. It has overruled the objection of the Calcutta anjuman and intervened in a dispute pertaining to entry to the local agiary despite the FPZAI rules barring such interference unless consented to by the concerned anjuman. The Federation is prepared to divert funds meant for the welfare of the community to fight legal battles. There is no talk of forming a world body of any sort. WAPIZ wants only a racially pure Parsi Zoroastrian global body.

For a community organization to serve its beneficiaries, there has to be structured safeguards and a will to serve. Without either of these pre-conditions, the institution is unlikely to serve its purpose.



 

Villoo Poonawalla