MUMBAI: Against the backdrop of the BJP's defeat in three Hindi heartland states, the Congress in Maharashtra feels that it can channel the "agrarian distress" and "anger" over the lack of jobs against the ruling BJP, in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections due next year.
Maharashtra sends the second largest chunk of MPs (48) to Lok Sabha after Uttar Pradesh (80). At the same time, Congress leaders are also aware that they have to first put their own house in order before facing the BJP in polls.
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress had registered its worst performance when it won only two seats.
The Congress, which was in power for three consecutive terms in alliance with the NCP from 1999 until 2014, could win only 42 of 288 seats in the state assembly polls held in October last year.
According to political observers, public unrest over unemployment and "agrarian crises" is more acute in Maharashtra than in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan--the Hindi heartland states where the BJP lost power in recent polls.
Meanwhile, disputing the government's claims on promoting budding entrepreneurs, observers claimed that the institutions running the skilled development courses are not being paid by the government until they submit details of employment provided by them.
"Similarly, it is difficult to avail credit from banks under the Mudra scheme", they said.
Unlike Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, state of Maharashtra is a multi-party polity where regional parties like Shiv Sena and NCP have their own areas of influence.
Besides, small players like Raj Thackeray-led MNS, Maharashtra Swabhiman Party of Narayan Rane, Bahujan Vikas Agadhi, SP, BSP, SSS, CPI, RPI can also influence vote share.
A Maharashtra Congress leader said the party's future strategy will be to defeat all candidates of BJP, which had emerged as the single largest party in 2014 polls by winning 121 seats.
"In case the Congress and the NCP fail to ensure victory for their nominees, the strategy would be to directly or indirectly support influential candidates who can do so," the leader said.
Referring to the BJP win in recent civic polls in Maharashtra, the leader said the ruling party adopted a strategy wherein it had poached the well-networked and established corporators from other parties.
He said the BJP used intimidating tactics on those who refused to defect. "This strategy of the BJP will not work in assembly and Lok Sabha polls", he said.
Senior Congress leader from Mumbai Milind Deora sounds more realistic.
"I am concerned about Mumbai which elects 36 MLAs. If we want to win Maharashtra, we need to do well in Mumbai. As a party, we need to take everybody along", said the former Mumbai South MP.
Deora said the outcome of recent polls will definitely boost the morale of the party workers but a lot of work has to be done in Mumbai.
"We have to reach out to different sections of the society and run an aspirational campaign. We have to take along all leaders in the party. Before bringing other like-minded parties on board, we need to put our own house in order first", Deora noted.
State BJP spokesman Keshav Upadhayay said the party is confident of winning 2019 assembly and LS polls on the strength of its organisational muscle.
"In the just-concluded election to Dhule municipal corporation and previously Sangli municipal corporation, the Congress and NCP contested together but we defeated them convincingly," he said.
Sources in BJP rejected Congress' claims that the BJP was poaching corporators.
"They (corporators) joined the BJP because of the development work carried out by the Devendra Fadnavis government", they said.
About possible political permutations and combinations emerging ahead of elections, an NCP leader said the MNS is keen to tie up with the Sharad Pawar-led party.
"But we are not sure if votes of MNS will be transferred to us in elections", he said.
On a speculation about NCP favouring Narayan Rane, who is currently the BJP Rajya Sabha MP, as an alliance partner in the Congress-led grouping, the leader said, "If Shiv Sena and BJP tie up for the upcoming polls, Rane will quit the NDA".