In a bid to regain power in Chhattisgarh after being routed in 2003 by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress is exploiting the name of BJP's iconic leader and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take on Chief Minister Raman Singh on his home turf Rajnandgaon that goes to the polls on Monday.
Raman Singh, the longest serving Chief Minister of the BJP, is locked in a direct fight with his former mentor Karuna Shukla, niece of the late Vajpayee. The 68-year-old Shukla, a former BJP Lok Sabha MP, ended her 32-year-long association with the BJP in 2014 and joined the Congress.
The down-to-earth Shukla is known to have a clean image and she had rejected the BJP's repeated efforts in the recent past to shed her anger against the saffron party. The Congress cleverly fielded her against the Bharatiya Janata Party's most popular face in Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, to deny him a walkover.
"Voters in Rajnandgaon are in a dilemma as they have great affection and regard for Raman Singh but Shukla is a simple and sober woman and most importantly she is seeking votes in the name of late Vajpayeeji rather than the Congress or Rahul Gandhi," says Tejindar Bhatia, who owns a grocery shop at Gurunanak Chowk in the heart of Rajnandgaon town.
A mobile telephone shop owner, Raju Sahu admitted that Raman Singh would win because of his "deep bonding and strong connect" over the years with voters while Shukla is a "parachute candidate" who had been used by the Congress to scare the BJP.
The Congress camp is also encouraged by the huge turnout of locals at a roadshow carried out by Congress President Rahul Gandhi on November 9 in Rajnandgaon town with Shukla and state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel.
Sensing that there is a fight on Raman Singh's home turf, BJP President Amit Shah staged a road show in Rajnandgaon town hours before campaigning ended on Sunday.
The BJP show of strength was dubbed one of the biggest election road shows in Chhattisgarh and Shah advised voters to ensure Raman Singh wins by not less than 70,000 votes difference.
"You need to double the victory margin this time for Raman Singh. In 2013 he won by a little over 35,000 votes difference, this time the margin should be above 70,000," Shah told voters in the presence of Raman Singh.
Chhattisgarh has 90 Assembly seats. In the first phase, polling will be held for 18 seats -- 12 in Bastar and six in Rajnandgaon district. The second and final phase of polling in the mineral-rich state is scheduled on November 20.
The results will be declared on December 11.
( With inputs from IANS )