How Odisha’s Lone Muslim Woman MLA Found Out She Was Contesting Polls


Earlier this year, Sofia Firdous was preparing for her father, Mohammed Moquim, the then-incumbent Congress MLA of Odisha’s Cuttack, to fight reelection. However, barely a month before the state Assembly elections were supposed to begin, a jolt hit the family when Mr Moquim, managing director of his real estate firm Metro Group, found out that he was ineligible to contest the polls as the Supreme Court did not stay his conviction in an Orissa Rural Housing Development Corporation (ORHDC) loan fraud case.

With 30 days left and no candidate, the Congress pinned its hope on Ms Firdous. The 32-year-old abandoned her career as a real estate developer and defeated BJP’s Purna Chandra Mahapatra by a margin of 8,001 votes, making her the state’s first-ever woman Muslim MLA.

Speaking exclusively with NDTV, Ms Firdous candidly recounted her unexpected political entry.

“I am not a politician,” she stressed. “When my father was unable to contest the elections, a large gathering of 400-500 supporters convened at our residence. Recognising the hard work and solid base my father had established in Cuttack, they unanimously endorsed me to step into the fray.”

In the 2014 and 2019 elections, Ms Firdous had already been actively involved in her father’s campaigns, managing door-to-door outreach, social media, and closely collaborating with Congress party workers. Her familiarity and rapport with the party’s grassroots workers made her a natural choice. Media speculation further fueled the momentum, and a call from senior party leader Giribala Behera confirmed her candidacy.

Ms Firdous faced the daunting challenge of a short campaign period, with only one month to prepare. She recalls her initial apprehensions, questioning whether voters would transfer their trust in her father to her.

“I just had one month for the elections. My major fear was that people knew my father well as he had done a lot of grassroots work. He lost in 2014 and then emerged victorious in 2019. So why will people vote for me and trust me so quickly?” Ms Firdous said. 

“The campaigning started from 6 am till 2 pm in sweltering heat. It was then resumed from 5 pm till 9 pm. I just had one month to reach people and just focused on door-to-door campaigning. Something that really worked for me I think was the good work of my father and the report cards we were sharing very proudly,” she added.  

As one of the youngest legislators in the Odisha Assembly, Ms Firdous now faces the challenge of going up against seasoned politicians of the BJP and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

“I am excited. I joined real estate at the age of 21 in 2013. In 2-3 years RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) came into force. I studied a lot and started giving presentations on RERA. That’s how I entered policy advocacy with the government. Even then my seniors, those in their 50s and 60s, would say ‘She’s just a kid’. I took that very personally and started working even harder,” Ms Firdous said. 

Drawing inspiration from Nandini Satpathy, the former Chief Minister of Odisha and a fellow Cuttack native, Ms Firdous aspires to follow in the footsteps of the “Iron Lady of Odisha.” 

Besides addressing the pressing issues of drainage and mosquito problems in Cuttack, she harbours a personal ambition to elevate the city’s status as the filigree capital of India.

On being asked about her identity as a “Muslim MLA”, Ms Firdous said, “I am an Odia, an Indian and a woman first. Throughout my career and professional life in real estate, I have worked hard for women’s empowerment and I will continue to do so in politics as well. Being a Muslim politician is something I have never given thought to.”

The recent state elections in Odisha saw the end of Mr Patnaik’s 24-year rule, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) storming to power by securing 78 seats in the 147-member assembly, a significant shift from BJD’s previous dominance. The BJD managed to secure 51 seats, while the Congress took 14 seats, and three went to Independent candidates. In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJD suffered a rout with the BJP winning 20 and the Congress emerging victorious in 1 out of 21 seats in the state. 

 Earlier this year, Sofia Firdous was preparing for her father, Mohammed Moquim, the then-incumbent Congress MLA of Odisha’s Cuttack, to fight reelection. Within days, her life changed.    

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