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Anahita versus...?

Three-and-a-half months prior to the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trusteeship election, notices were placed in the Parsi Times weekly of March 17 and the Jam-e-Jamshed issue of March 18 for the July 1 voting. The intention may have been to stymie any effort by the Muncherji Cama camp to move the courts pleading for a three-year extension to his trusteeship term which is to expire on July 5, 2018.

There is a dispute over whether Cama’s resignation from the BPP board is valid or not. Once the election process has began, the courts do not normally favor intervening. The Assistant Charity Commissioner (ACC) was to rule on the resignation on March 28 but unfortunately she was hospitalized. Had the ACC stated that the resignation was invalid and Cama could continue in office, then there was a chance that he might have asked for his term to be extended for the three or so years he missed in office due to the legal dispute. This could have possibly meant another court case and the election being put off for the interim. Cama did not attend the board meetings while his status as a trustee was in limbo.

Perhaps also to send a signal to other potential contestants of the formidable candidate they would have to face, the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ) chief executive officer and noted social worker, Anahita Desai confirmed to Parsiana that she was standing for the vacancy. Her husband, Yazdi, is the chairman of the BPP.

In the keenly contested election between her and Cama on July 4, 2011, Cama had defeated her by 5,134 votes to 3,510 votes. At that time one of the issues that went against her candidacy was that her husband was also on the board.

On the Parsiana Facebook Page that announced her candidature on March 28, the vast majority of comments questioned the propriety of a husband and wife being on the board. Tehmi Patel termed it a "Gher no ghambar (a family affair)," while Behroze Sidhva alleged, "This is nepotism at its worst." Chartered accountant Jehangir Bisney while noting, "there is nothing which technically disallows a husband and wife serving on the same board or committee" cautioned, "the BPP voters would be better off not to have such an arrangement. Husband and wife...could lead to inappropriate decision making and when tricky issues arise, there is a huge probability of collusion." But viewer Shy Ahdi stated that those who disapprove, "Should not vote for her. (It’s) as simple as that."

In the 2011 election, both Kersi Randeria who became a BPP trustee in 2015 and the then BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta, had supported Cama. Randeria may or may not overtly back Anahita. BPP trustee Noshir Dadrawala has announced on WhatsApp on March 29, "I will personally stay off and away from this and any other election during my term of office, exactly like I did when (BPP trustee) Armaity Tirandaz and (former BPP trustee) Arnavaz Mistry contested. In my opinion, it is not proper for a sitting trustee to canvas for one trustee or the other." The day before, in a message to Parsiana he stated, "Let the administration handle the process...extend infrastructural help when requested...but stay neutral."

BPP trustee Zarir Bhathena has no love lost for the Desais. The couple and others opposed him tooth and nail when he has constructing the Hilla Towers building in the Wadia Agiary compound in Lalbaug. BPP trustees Tirandaz and Viraf Mehta, Dinshaw’s son, will oppose Anahita.

Which raises the pertinent question, who will oppose her? Dinshaw had claimed Cama was keen to stand for the election, but Cama has not confirmed whether he will stand. That has not deterred the Parsi Times weekly owned by Randeria for lampooning both Dinshaw and Cama. In the issue of March 24, the column "With Malice Toward (N)one And All" is headlined, "The Shady Saga of Munching Murgo and Dinky Derko." No prizes for guessing who the two refer to. To make it clearer, the unnamed columnist goes on to state, the Murgo (chicken) "had grown up in a palatial chicken farm," while Derko (frog), "was born in mud and slime."

The emails exchanged between Yazdi and Viraf also indicate this is going to be a messy fight. In an email dated March 27, Yazdi addresses Viraf as "lily livered, sick demented coward" and to Dinshaw as "your criminal daddy." Viraf on the same day labels Yazdi a liar who "deceive(s) and double crosses people."

Dinshaw and Randeria have also crossed swords on community activist Jamshed Salamat Irani’s WhatsApp posts. Dinshaw termed Randeria "a liar" and referred to him derogatorily as Rand (play on the word raand, sex worker) eria, while Randeria indicated that it was Dinshaw who was going "back to his roots," a reference to the Foras Road, a red light area, where Dinshaw initially resided. Dinshaw’s "obsession with the area that the Mehtas come from and operate from is obvious...feel sorry for his depraved mind," Randeria added.

Such an acrimonious environment may deter all but the most hardy from entering the fray. If Cama does not stand, Dinshaw may be hard put to find a suitable candidate who could defeat Anahita. While Yazdi’s professional commitments may have lessened his interaction with lay Parsis, Anahita is active in the community and has a substantial number of well-wishers. Dinshaw may consider supporting chartered accountant Xerxes Dastur who had unsuccessfully contested the 2015 trusteeship election. Both he and the Desais reside in Rustom Baug but are in opposite camps.

Dastur would have to rely on Dinshaw’s support, overtly or covertly. He needs the electoral support that Dinshaw is capable of providing. The kingmakers are undoubtedly Dinshaw and Randeria. The Desais also are formidable campaigners. But WAPIZ is not the force they once were. Plus, Yazdi being an incumbent, some of the voter disenchantment may rub off on Anahita.

Whichever way events develop, the next three months are bound to be full of twists and turns. And an abundance of mud slinging. The 2015 proposed code of conduct has remained just that, an unfulfilled assurance, like so many other broken promises.



 

Villoo Poonawalla