Newsmaker: In Odisha, Muslim woman creates history in Bhadrak civic polls

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) may have swept the recently concluded civic polls in Odisha, but one of its defining moments was the election of the first Muslim woman as the chairperson of a local body in the state.

The story of this history-making election in the town of Bhadrak becomes even more remarkable when one factors in that the winner is a 31-year-old Independent candidate who bested the ruling party’s nominee. The seat was reserved for women this year after the delimitation process and went to Gulmaki Dalawzi Habib, who defeated the BJD’s Samita Mishra by 3,256 votes.

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Habib, who is a Business Administration graduate and a professional data entry operator, attributes her victory to people’s trust and the mutual goal of Bhadrak’s development. She claims to be a political novice but comes from a family with a political pedigree. Her husband, Sheikh Jahid Habib, is the BJD’s district vice president.

“My uncle, aunts…they are all active in the political sphere for the last 30 years. My maternal uncle was a councillor and my maternal aunt was elected as vice-chairman many years ago. I even married into a politically active family. So it was impossible to be detached from politics as such but I had never in my wildest imagination thought that I would contest an election and even win it,” Habib tells The Indian Express over the phone.

Gulmaki Dalawzi Habib (Express photo)

The 31-year-old is a resident of the town’s Purana Bazaar area, which consists of half of the municipality’s 30 wards. In the run-up to the polls, there was a strong demand to nominate a Purana Bazaar resident as locals allege that the area is ignored and left to its fate every time.

“I was born here and the place has not changed a bit. There has been no development in the area at all, be it roads or drainage…none of it has come to this part of the town,” Habib says.

After the BJD did not nominate a candidate from Purana Bazaar, she decided to contest as an Independent. “I was reluctant initially since this was new for me. But people here know my family well and everyone insisted that I take this up. Their trust and cooperation throughout the journey, from filing the nomination to the counting day, ensured my win,” Habib says.

Of the town’s 1.21-lakh populace, 40 per cent are Muslims. It has witnessed two major riots in the past — one in 1991 in the lead-up to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement and again in 2017.

“I had the support of the people of Bhadrak, irrespective of religion,” says Habib. “It is foolish to think that I won with the support of only one community. Nobody treated me any different. My brothers from the Hindu community campaigned for me, took to the stage to ask for votes. And I will work for everyone.”

Asked about her objectives, the new chairperson says she wants to “work on ground issues” and ensure the overall development of the town.

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