Rayomand Coins
 

Deride, deny and delay

Just when it seemed things could not get any worse, they did. Following two back-to-back meetings on October 12, 2021, Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) chairwoman Armaity Tirandaz announced that the thrice deferred trusteeship elections for two seats will be held after a year in October 2022 when the term of three other trustees is due to expire (see "A tale of two meetings," pg 18). The only proposed reform in the election scheme she and co-trustee Viraf Mehta agreed on was to shorten the incoming trustees’ term to five years.

The announcement threw the meeting into turmoil with an emotional BPP trustee Noshir Dadrawala writing out his resignation and submitting it to the chairwoman. As tempers frayed and Tirandaz was berated for being former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta’s lackey, she terminated the meeting and shortly thereafter left along with Viraf.

The two-to-two vote with the chairwoman exercising her casting vote to delay the trusteeship elections to October 2022 is an indication of the disregard the Mehta camp has for democratic procedures and due process of law. Elections have been delayed in the past but never after dates have been thrice announced. As per the election scheme, elections are to be held between 28 to 90 days of a trusteeship seat falling vacant. But after the first vacancy on the board arose in June 2020 and the second in December 2020, the two seats continue to remain unoccupied. Dinshaw justified the majority decision claiming that the standard operating procedures of the state government prohibit the holding of elections and place restrictions on campaigning. However, while campaigning is affected, elections can be and are being held in the state.

The first meeting on October 12 between Dinshaw supporters and the trustees almost arrived at a consensus to delay the elections by a year if much needed election reforms were introduced. These included shortening the trustees’ term from seven to five years, introducing a code of conduct for the elections, providing for electronic voting, etc. At the meeting thereafter Dinshaw’s son Viraf told the group comprising supporters of BPP trustee Kersi Randeria that reforms could be done before the October 2022 elections. But after the second group left the BPP boardroom for 40 minutes to let the trustees decide on the date and the reforms proposal, on their return they were informed of the new date and of the inclusion of only one reform.

Justifying restricting the reforms to only one, Dinshaw told Parsiana that it would take up to three months to draw up a code of conduct agreeable to all trustees. This could have resulted in a further delay in the elections. That argument rings hollow because as it is the Mehta camp has maneuvered under one pretense or the other to delay three scheduled elections from March 2021 onwards. Their intention is to hold on to their three-to-two majority for as long as and by whatever means possible.

Dadrawala texted on WhatsApp that the postponement of elections may have been avoided if BPP trustee Xerxes Dastur who is unwell had been present. "I still believe he is a professional and a non political streak is still left in him and he will take an independent stand and say let elections be conducted for two seats by December 2021." Randeria stated in his weekly Parsi Times (PT) of October 16, "Fearing or knowing that Xerxes would have, in all probability not voted with them, they pushed for casting votes without his presence." But when Parsiana sent a WhatsApp text to Dastur on October 16 inquiring, "Would you have voted to extend the elections till October 2022?" he replied the next day, "There are compelling arguments on both sides of this discussion." When told his response did not answer the question, he gave no reply. This indicates his loyalties remain very much with the Mehtas.

Why did Dinshaw let it come to this eventuality? His group of loyalists had proposed what seemed an acceptable and practical solution. His acceptance of the compromise would have lessened the ill will that exists between the two camps. It would also have saved some face for Tirandaz who throughout the meetings on October 5 and 12 when asked to comment on any major issue constantly turned to Viraf for counsel, either verbally or through notes.

In an opinion piece titled, "Destroying the BPP legacy…one Tuesday at a time," Randeria wrote in the PT, "Tirandaz was not allowed to answer any questions or give any justification (as Viraf) would brazenly whisper in her ear." He termed the October 12 meeting, "the final nail in the coffin," an analogy that is sure to irritate traditionalists who believe only in dakhmenashini.

The Mehta camp’s online weekly Parsi Junction of October 17 featured a front page opinion piece by Viraf berating the second group for "yell(ing) at us and also (for making) disrespectful and derogatory statements against" Tirandaz.

Had there not been a fracas over the postponement, it may have saved the unseemly spectacle of Dadrawala handing in his resignation and then four days later stating he would go on an indefinite hunger strike at the BPP office till the resolution to hold the elections in October 2022 was revoked. "Please note that this is neither a publicity stunt nor drama," he stated in a WhatsApp text on October 17. "I will be sitting at BPP and sleeping there at night till such time as this illegal resolution is revoked."

Through his maneuvering Dinshaw has once again thrown the beleaguered and financially and, some would argue, morally bankrupt trust into turmoil. It will be hard to concentrate on governance while firefighting a crisis. As it is Viraf told both opposing groups that evening the BPP has overdues totaling 11 crore rupees. As a result subsidies for the mobeds and parents of second and third children have been put on hold; contractors’ bills are overdue; the 50% share of building repairs the BPP owes occupants has not been reimbursed; gratuity payments to retired employees are pending…

If Randeria and his sympathizers take the election issue to court, they, the three majority trustees and Dinshaw will have to spend considerable time and money litigating the case. This will be a costly undertaking for both sides and will drain the energies of the trustees and the BPP administration. The legal tussle will also be reported in the local Press, adding to the community’s embarrassment. This was an easily avoidable crisis. That even a modicum of a compromise could not be reached speaks volumes of the utter degradation of present day Bombay Parsi politics.

 



 

Villoo Poonawalla