The results of the civic polls in Bhiwandi, Malegaon and Panvel will be declared on May 26. (File photo)
After dominating local elections in other parts of Maharashtra, the ruling BJP is now eyeing wins in three other towns where civic body elections are being held today. These include the Muslim-majority Malegaon and Bhiwandi and the party has fielded a record number of candidates from the community.
Municipal elections are also being held in Panvel in Raigad district.
The BJP has fielded 27 Muslim candidates this time in Malegaon, where the party had won not a single ward five years ago. The Malegaon municipal corporation is currently controlled by Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party or NCP, but the BJP's strategy this time makes it a contest, and the party is confident it will make an impact.
For the Bhiwandi municipality, the BJP has fielded 18 Muslim candidates.
The outreach is seen as an attempt to make inroads into areas that the BJP has not been politically strong. In local elections held in several rounds since December, the BJP has surged in rural areas which were for years considered the stronghold of the Congress and the NCP, once partners in the state.
In February, the BJP swept civic body elections in regions like Amravati and Pune. In Mumbai, it was a close runner-up to the Shiv Sena in its best result ever.
Last month the BJP won civic elections in Latur, which the Congress had never lost since Independence.
There is heavy security in Malegaon, with police patrolling and drones being used for security. The drones have cameras attached that are recording what's happening at polling centres. Malegaon, a Muslim-dominated city in Nashik district, around 280 km north-east of Mumbai, was rocked by two terror attacks in 2006 and 2008 and is listed among the 'sensitive' cities in the state.
Voting started in all three towns at 8 am. At many polling centres in Malegaon there have been long queues of women standing in the scorching heat and waiting to vote.
"Everyone wants their lives to improve and that's why women are also coming out to vote. It's obvious that whoever the women vote for will win," said Zaibunissa Sheikh after voting.
"Voting this time is good as there are many booths and the security arrangement is very good with lots of policemen being deployed," said Arif Hussain, a power loom worker.
A total of 1,251 candidates are contesting in these elections in the three civic bodies and there are 252 seats in total for which representatives will be elected by 12.96 lakh voters. The results will be declared on May 26.