The recently concluded civic body polls was a turning point for minority community in Odisha’s poll history with with voters directly electing a woman from the Muslim community as chairperson of any urban local body for the first time.
The 31-year-old Gulmaki Dalawzi Habib, an independent candidate, won the election to chairperson of Bhadrak Municipality by defeating nearest rival Samita Mishra, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate, by 3,256 votes.
Ms. Habib, a graduate in Master in Business Administration, was not active in politics though her husband and in-laws are known in the local political circle. Her husband Seikh Jahid Habib was vice-president of Bhadrak district BJDl.
There had been a demand for fielding a person from the minority community as candidate for civic body chairperson in Bhadrak where a Muslim community has a sizeable population. As the post was reserved for women, Ms. Habib became the unanmous choice. However, she had to face the ire of the ruling BJD.
Initially it was believed that it would not be smooth sailing for Ms. Habib as Bhadrak has a history of communal tensions.
“During my campaign, I had not come across any reservation in minds of voters towards Muslim woman candidate. People treated me like their daughter irrespecive of the community they belong to,” said Ms. Habib who would soon be sworn as chairperson of Bhadrak Municipal Corporation.
Though Muslim women had won direct elections for post of councillors or wardmembers, this is for the first time, a muslim woman was first choice of voters for leading a town.
“In Odisha’s poll history, not a single woman has been elected as MLA. Even Muslim communities are very reluctant to send woman members to fight elections. After the Odisha government reserved seats for women in three-tier panchayati raj institutions and civic bodies, Muslim women are coming forward to fight elections,” said Mohammed Akbar Ali, who was chairperson of Kendrapara Muncipality for six years from 1984 to 1990.
Muslim community constitutes less than 3% of Odisha’s population. There have been very few representation of minority community in the State’s politics, though members of Muslim community had gone on to become Cabinet Ministers in the State.
Similarly, journalist-turned-politician Sulochana Das became the first woman Mayor of Bhubaneswar. Prior to her election as first citizen of Bhubaneswar, she was Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities.
“I want to give further push to development initiative taken in Bhubaneswar. People would surely take pride for being citizen of the capital city,” said Ms. Das after her victory.