Power of proxy has chamber up in arms

IF THE campaigning is anything to go by, next month's election for the Indian Chamber of Commerce board could be a tempestuous affair.

Words such as ''fearful'' and ''intimidating'' are being used to describe the atmosphere surrounding the poll for the 15-strong board, that will elect a chairman and two vice-chairmen.

One of the contenders for the top position, Mr Gary Purswani, is charging that former chairman and one of the more prominent members of the Indian community Mr K. Sital is collecting proxy votes for the man he favours, Mr Hatim Ibrahim who, like Mr Purswani, is a vice-chairman.

Critics claim Mr Sital, whose son Raj is chairman, has been canvassing for members' proxy votes since last September.

Businessman Mr Viroomal Aswani, who handed his voting slip to a man acting on behalf of Mr Sital last September, said he had been trying since January to get it back and was now threatening legal action after an angry exchange of letters with Mr Sital and the chamber.

Mr Aswani has already been told by the chamber's secretary general Mr Chalakudi Subramaniam that he cannot have it back because it is ''an instrument relating to a proxy to a general meeting which has not yet been called''.

Mr Purswani and Mr Aswani charge that those who have tried to get their proxies back have been subject to a ''campaign of fear and intimidation''.

While he refused to name individuals, Mr Purswani said it was orchestrated by ''our leaders, who want to create permanent positions for themselves, for their personal use''.

He has put his name on a petition being circulated among the 380-odd voting members of the chamber and signed by 36 people, appealing to them not to hand over their proxies in advance of the March 17 meeting.

Another member, Mr Vijay Chugh, is warning that if Mr Ibrahim is elected, 50 members will resign from the chamber.

Mr Raj Sital denied there was anything untoward going on, saying, ''there is no question of proxies being collected, because they are not valid until the 30-day notice of the annual general meeting is issued''.

''A proxy can be rescinded if the member wants to vote in person - even during the last minute before the election,'' he said. ''There is nothing sinister in any of this; we are following the Government's legislation. This is a democratic vote.''