NEW DELHI: The upcoming local body elections in Maharashtra ,including the BrihanMumbai Minicipal Corporation(BMC), are being seen as a 'mini state Assembly polls' in the political circles here which will reflect the changing voting pattern, caste combinations and the incumbency factor.

While Congress leaders are privately saying that the fight in these polls would be be between the Congress and the Shiv Sena , they claim to be confident that the ruling BJP will slip to the 4rth position. The NCP, in their view, will not be a player in the local pollsas many of its leaders are facing corruption charges.

This Congress optimism does not seem to take into account the efforts by the NCP to strengthen its core base, by consolidating the Marathas and reaching out to the minorities on the plank of reservations..NCP chief Sharad Pawar has been criticising the Maharashtra government for harassing Muslims, especially youth by police in the name of 'investigation'. This is a turn around as Pawar had been silent on the minorities issue for a while now. The all powerful Maratha community in the state has also responded adversely on the rape and murder of a young girl from the community.

Though the Congress has yet to work on a strategy for these polls and whether or not to address the issues of Maratha reservation and harassment of minorities, the party leaders are praising the Shiv Sena's strategy of acquiring the opposition space despite sharing power with the BJP at the Centre and in Maharashtra. The political will inthe Congress to provide an effective opposition, and gain ground in the state, seems to be absent.

The BMC,Nagpur and Pune minucipal corporation elections will e crucial for the Shiv Sena,the BJP,the Congress and the NCP for different reasons.Atleast 15 municipal corporations wil be going to the polls early next year,with polls scheduled in the 26 Zila parishads as well.