Malegaon (Maharasthra) : A record 40 percent of the 253,410 voters exercised their franchise in the first five hours of voting as the communally sensitive Malegaon town in south Maharashtra went to polls Sunday to elect its civic body.
Voters were seen queuing up at 246 polling booths in the town right since 7 a.m. to elect 71 members from amongst 357 in the fray.
The town police, complemented by contingents from district headquarters Nashik, took out a flag march across the town Thursday and Friday and stood guard at all polling booths to ensure peaceful election.
Being held eight months after three devastating bomb blasts claimed 38 lives in the precincts of Hamidia mosque here, the civic elections have quite a few unique features – the apparent communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims constituting 60 and 40 percent of the population respectively being one of them.
Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fielding six and four Muslim candidates out of their 21 and 11 respectively, is another surprising aspect of the poll.
The two saffron allies, who jointly ruled the state from 1995 to 1999, are fighting the elections separately. So are the two ruling Democratic Front partners Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) who have fielded 72 and 44 candidates respectively.
All political parties swearing by communal harmony and pitching for development in the three-week long election campaign was another heartening feature in this town, which has a long history of communal riots.
Son of the local Congress MLA Sheikh Rashid and incumbent mayor Asif Sheikh has been elected unopposed to the 72-member civic body, and is nursing an ambition to run another term.
But former mayor and Janata Dal veteran Nihal Ahmed, who has put up his son Buland Iqbal and daughter Shan-e-Hind in the election, is keen to see Iqbal in the top post.
Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party, banking heavily on Muslim votes, have put up 67 and 21 candidates respectively. Giving a call to boycott all political parties, Muslim priest Mufti Mohammed Ismail has set up Indian Muslim Congress Party, which he calls teesra mahaaj (third front).
Another priest, Moulana Azhari, has, however, issued a 'fatwa' (religious diktat) against mufti's third front.
Anticipating a hung house, NCP is already preparing ground for cobbling up a secular front with Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party in an effort to keep Congress out of power.
Counting of votes will be conducted Monday and the results are expected the same day.