Rayomand Coins

The endless wait

While the Maharashtra state government lifts the lockdown restrictions, three out of five Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) majority trustees want to do the opposite. For the third time they intend to delay the long overdue trusteeship elections for two seats (see "Embarrassing but true," pg 20). The latest excuse cited is a clause in a state government notification dated August 2, 2021 stating that "in order to avoid crowding restrictions imposed on birthday parties, political, social and cultural events, elections, election campaigning rallies, protest marches to continue."

This is nothing new and cannot be grounds for continuously deferring the much delayed elections, postponed for the third time to October 17 and perhaps the fourth time tentatively to November. The strategy of the three majority trustees, chairwoman Armaity Tirandaz, Viraf Mehta and Xerxes Dastur and their mentor, former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta is to by hook or by crook delay the elections till October 2022 by which time the seats of trustees Noshir Dadrawala, Kersi Randeria and Viraf also will be up for election. Dinshaw hopes to unseat Dadrawala and/or Randeria, should they seek reelection. But if he feels they may win, or that Viraf may lose his seat, he may once again instruct the majority trustees to postpone the elections beyond October 2022 for as long as possible.

Dinshaw and the trio’s motivation in delaying the elections is the apprehension that they may lose the majority. Dinshaw has a well-organized network that ensures his voters get out and cast their ballot. But is his pull with a section of the electorate weakening? Will his followers perceive the continued delay as an infringement of their rights? The four have to weigh the long-term consequences of lessening credibility versus retaining their majority.

Dinshaw has no hesitation in forming and breaking alliances. In the February 2, 2021 issue of Parsi Junction (PJ) he referred to candidate Dr Zuleika Homavazir as a person who "has fraudulently attempted to usurp charity property of the BPP." He referred to her "mischievous conduct" resulting in the BPP filing "an eviction suit in the Small Causes Court." She in turn had filed a "criminal complaint in Byculla Police Station against" Dinshaw, then BPP chairman. "What is more telling of her character is the fact that despite being well off, she has intentionally not paid occupation charges, service charges, parking charges and other incidental charges as are being paid by all other residents of BPP colonies," PJ lamented.

Today the pages of PJ provide Homavazir a platform for her electoral campaign and specifically to attack Dinshaw’s main foes Dadrawala and Randeria.

An abuse-laced, verbal spat between Dinshaw, hopeful trusteeship candidate and Pol Khol Sachu Bol editor Kaikhushroo Irani and others outside the Charity Commissioner’s office in Worli could have resulted in another embarrassing incident of fisticuffs but for the fact that Randeria kept the foes at bay. These about-turns and temper tantrums will not earn the former BPP chairman much goodwill.

If the majority trustees were delivering on their electoral promises and performing up to expectations, they could win reelection. But under the leadership of the past two chairmen the BPP has proven to be a public embarrassment; while with the current chairwoman, the performance has been lackluster and even counterproductive. The scrapping of the Rs 750 service charges has dug an even deeper hole in the bankrupt trust’s pockets. Barring the 25 who had not paid, residents of 2,530 BPP-managed flats had paid the full levy and 45, a reduced sum.

Now there is once again talk of converting licenses to tenancies. While this confers more rights and powers on the residents, enhancing rents or raising funds for repairs and maintenance could be further complicated. In the October 2008 elections Dinshaw had favored scrapping leave and license agreements and replacing them with tenancies. But his then electoral allies, the traditionalist World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis founder trustees Khojeste Mistree and Yazdi Desai reportedly advised against doing so on the grounds that licenses could be cancelled should occupants’ children marry non Parsis. This would serve as a deterrent to interfaith marriages, they reasoned. Under tenancy laws the offspring would have more legal rights. Plus the case would take 10 years or more, moving through the various courts, at the end of which either party could win.

As it is the BPP does not have the funds to pay their 50% share of the repairs, leave aside subsidies for second and third children or the priests. The BPP is probably only a hair’s breath away from financial disaster. Only the auctioning of flats is enabling them to pay salaries. If any new financial demand arises, they could be facing default.

On the seven-member board, one seat has been vacant for over a year and another for more than eight months. Hoshang Jal, honorary secretary of the Cusrow Baug United Sports and Welfare League and a likely candidate for the next BPP elections sent a WhatsApp message on August 6 that "the scheme of election clearly states that an election to fill the vacancy of a trustee should be held in not less than 28 days and not more than three months." He notes if the election is not held as scheduled, the Bombay High Court has to sanction the extension. A view endorsed by Dadrawala who responded, "You are absolutely right." A Dinshaw ally and potential candidate, caterer Tehmtan Dumasia texted on August 3, "We should proceed with the election."

The political stratagem of the four to cling to power could come to naught if potential candidates move the courts asking for elections to be held. Arguments of public safety can be countered by complying with the safeguards and noting the state government’s loosening of restrictions. The safety precautions were put in place for the aborted March 14 and May 23 scheduled elections. Access to suburban trains is being permitted for all those who have received both doses of the vaccine, the government is considering allowing students to physically attend school and the limit on those attending a marriage is proposed to be raised to 200 from the present 50.

The pandemic and the various lockdowns will continue for at least another year. The vaccination drive moves at a snail’s pace with no guarantee of vaccine stocks being replenished. Plus, many are skeptical about being inoculated. Only 10% of Indians have been vaccinated so far, according to the ministry of health and family welfare, quoted in India Today (July 27, 2021). A British Broadcasting Corporation report last updated on July 16 puts the figure at five percent. A Scroll report of June 21 says four percent. But most older Bombay Parsis who favor vaccination have probably received both the doses as many community associations, institutions and individuals have rallied to assist them.

A court case would involve money, time and effort. But considering the Mehtas’ adamancy to delay the elections, come what may, this may be the only option to hopefully hold the overdue elections.




















Villoo Poonawalla