With alliance talks with the Nationalist Congress Party for next month's assembly elections almost in place, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is on Monday making her first visit to Maharashtra since the date for the elections was announced.
Officially, Gandhi will inaugurate the newly renovated office of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee. But the visit is also aimed at delivering a message ahead of the October 13 elections.
The trip, however, will not kick-start the election campaign.
Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said Gandhi would launch the campaign in the third week of September.
Defence Minister A K Antony, who is in charge of the party's Maharashtra affairs and is leading the negotiations on the seat-sharing arrangement with Nationalist Congress Party chief and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, is accompanying Gandhi.
Congress sources pointed out that Gandhi chose to attend the programme after she received feedback about the near completion of the seat-sharing deal with its alliance partner in Maharashtra.
After climbing down from its initial rigid stand, the NCP has already indicated that it is ready to contest in less number of seats than it did in 2004. In 2004, both parties had contested the elections in alliance. The Congress had contested 157 seats and won 69, while the NCP contested 124 seats and won 71.
Pawar's party wants to contest in 119 seats but that too, is not acceptable to the Congress.
The Congress, which heads the coalition in Maharashtra, has conveyed to the NCP that it is ready to leave 108-109 seats. According to sources, the Congress may agree to leave 115-116 seats.
The Congress also wants to ensure that it gets 'quality seats' in the alliance.