Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's niece Karuna Shukla is heading for a photo-finish in Chhattisgarh's Korba parliamentary constituency, which goes to the polls Thursday along with the state's 10 other Lok Sabha seats.
Korba seat, which was created by delimitation, is spread over three districts - Bilaspur, Koria and Korba - and has about 1.2 million voters.
Shukla, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national vice-president, is locked in a battle with her old rival Charandas Mahant, the Congress state working president.
"Both the candidates have good reputations. When campaigning began early this month, the BJP was far behind the Congress and it was the general impression that it will easily win. But now it looks like the BJP is ahead, but only marginally," said Lokendra Sahu, a small businessmen in Korba town.
Sahu belongs to the Other Backward Class (OBC) that comprises roughly 50 percent of the total electors of the seat.
Shukla had fought a close battle in 2004 against Mahant from Janjgir Lok Sabha seat and she pulled off a victory by about 11,000 votes. Now that the Janjgir seat has been reserved for a Scheduled Caste candidate, they have revived their rivalry from Korba.
"I admit it's a tough battle but the achievements of my party's government in the state and complete failure of the Congress-led government in Delhi is making things different," Shukla said.
"I am asking voters to think about what the central government has done in the past five years and what the BJP government did in the state. We cared for the people - the state government launched the Rs 3 per kg rice scheme in April 2007 while the Congress just promised it in its poll manifesto," she added.
The constituency is in the state's northern region, and comprises eight assembly seats. The Congress and the BJP won four seats each in the November 2008 assembly polls.
"Let her make claims. People know everything very well, they also know that she was reluctant to contest from Korba and was keen on neighbouring Bilaspur. She is set to suffer defeat," said Congress state president Satynarayan Sharma.
A total of 18 candidates are in the fray for the seat that has been hit hard by extreme poverty, malnutrition and human trafficking problems, except for the industrial town of Korba where Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd. (BALCO) has a 3.5 million tonne per annum plant and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has a 2,100 MW thermal power plant.