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Desai’s power ploy

Of all the community institutions that have faced ignominy, the plight of the once respected Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India (FPZAI) must rank amongst the saddest. An all-India body that was formed almost 50 years ago through the offices of various civic minded individuals and anjumans in the face of opposition and indifference from the then mighty Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) is today reduced to a south Gujarat association representing less than 3,000 Parsis. Most of the major anjumans such as Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, Hyderabad-Secunderabad, Bangalore, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Surat and Poona have either been sidelined or recuse themselves from participation or have suspended or ceased their membership.

FPZAI annual general meetings are not held, no elections have taken place and accounts are not submitted.

In an audacious move to seize control of the remains of the moribund body and ensure his tenure in the community’s power hierarchy, BPP chairman and ex officio FPZAI president Yazdi Desai has proposed sweeping changes. He has sought to alter the registered office address of the FPZAI from the BPP to an undisclosed address, asked that his residential address at Rustom Baug be temporarily used for FPZAI correspondence and put forth for approval amendments to the FPZAI rules and regulations that would remove five of his six BPP co-trustees from any participation in the Federation. The only people that would remain in office are his handpicked office bearers.

He is unlikely to face much opposition from the member anjumans expected to attend, and if any dare oppose his resolutions, he can shut them up by asserting his right as president to stop the discussion.

He had done this when the FPZAI was debating whether they should intervene in the Originating Summons filed by two Parsi ladies in Calcutta regarding who had the right to enter the local agiary. Here also Desai and his loyalists violated the fundamental precept of not interfering in the internal matters of a member anjuman unless asked to do so. The Calcutta anjuman had told the FPZAI to stay out.

Ninety percent of those present at a Federation meeting would have to override any decision Desai makes to stop discussion, which is never going to happen. Only the BPP trustees in attendance will offer resistance but their votes will be too few to matter.

BPP trustee Noshir Dadrawala rightly terms the Federation a "rump," a term used by jurist Nani Palkhivala in the early 1980s when he was asked to head the organization. He accepted the office and then declined. At that time the BPP and several other anjumans had left the FPZAI in a huff following Delhi Parsi Anjuman president Shiavax Nargolwala’s criticism of the BPP election system during the Third World Zoroastrian Congress in Bombay in 1979.

The then BPP chairman B. K. Boman-Behram alleged Nargolwala had violated the FPZAI rule of not interfering in the internal workings of a member anjuman.

The BPP rejoined in 1983 after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked the community to speak with one voice when opposing the proposed adoption bill.

But by cementing his position in the FPZAI and possibly later passing a resolution saying he will be chairman for life, what does Desai hope to achieve? (He wanted to make his prime supporter and West Zone B vice president Sam Chothia head of the Defunct Anjumans Committee for life.)

Desai’s role in the BPP is undistinguished and at present he is one against six trustees. His long time FPZAI ally Kersi Randeria can no longer be counted on for support, likewise for Zarir Bhathena. Dadrawala has increasingly been taking an independent stand, while Armaity Tirandaz, Viraf Mehta and Xerxes Dastur are in former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta’s camp and therefore opposed to the current chairman. Desai cannot stand Dinshaw and once even reportedly cancelled a BPP staff function as the former chairman had been invited.

Ironically Desai came to power in 2008 as an electoral ally of Dinshaw. But the two fell out when a vacancy occurred following the resignation of Dadrawala. The only candidate to win from the Adult Franchise for Progress panel of seven, Dadrawala was viewed as a thorn in the side of Dinshaw and the others. They accordingly hounded him out. Desai then unwisely propped up his wife Anahita as a candidate, alerting Dinshaw to his power grab. The gamble failed. She lost but the relationship between Dinshaw and Desai ended up in bitter rivalry. But not before Dinshaw had given Desai and his co-trustee Khojeste Mistree a free rein in the FPZAI to consolidate their power. Randeria, likewise, initially left Desai to do as he pleased in the FPZAI. But his and the others’ opposition now may be too little, too late. Unless the courts are moved.

If Desai is successful in his ploy to gain total control, what are his plans for the FPZAI, if any? As chairman of the BPP he has few, if any major achievements. Even the BPP trustees’ relations with Wadia scion Nusli Wadia have reached a stage where no meetings of the Wadia Committee that oversees the functioning of the five Wadia baugs have been held for months.

Desai is chairman of the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ), another almost defunct body with aspirations of being a global body of Parsis but with little influence beyond south Gujarat. Aside from Anahita, WAPIZ’s chief executive officer organizing an annual sale at Cama Baug where Parsi entrepreneurs can sell their wares, WAPIZ has no significant presence anywhere.

Desai was treasurer of the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha, once a liberal body in the forefront of community reform, but now unheard of. Whether he even knew of the organization’s origins or purpose, is unlikely. It was one more office to hold on to. Will the FPZAI go the same way?

It’s already on a downward trajectory and the future, allowing for Desai’s track record, appears dim. Not that anyone cares. The community graveyard is littered with organizations that were once powerful but are now forsaken and forgotten. The list can only grow longer.



 

Villoo Poonawalla