Seated in a small room at the Congress headquarters in Lucknow on a day of hectic campaigning, the bespectacled former UP Congress chief confidence. After two failed attempts in the past, Rita Bahuguna Joshi believes this is the year she will make her way to the Lok Sabha. This, despite the fact that she faces the daunting task of the BJP chief Rajnath Singh. Contesting the Lok Sabha elections for the first time from Allahabad in 1999, Ms. Joshi ran a distant third.

In 2009, she rallied to secure a second spot in Lucknow losing out by only 40,000 votes to the BJP's Lalji Tandon, who bore the legacy of the former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

But call Ms. Joshi the 'main challenger' and she frowns. She considers herself the front runner.

"The mood is upbeat.  In 1999, I was skeptical and had told the party that I would lose.  In 2009, I had assessed that I would come a close second. The exact happened. This time we are winning," she said.

Ms. Joshi, who is sitting MLA from the Cantonment seat, contends that her commitment towards Lucknow is there for people to see. "I give the people confidence. I don't give them any promises. I am known by my

work for the past two years as an MLA," she says.

Despite her optimism, Ms. Joshi fears any attempts by the RSS-BJP to derail her campaign and polarize votes just before polling day, March 30. "They can polarize votes through some means, so we need to watch," says Ms. Joshi.

The Congress leader even goes to the extent to say the fight in Lucknow is a 'Congress versus the Rest' as the other parties were colluding to defeat her. Accusing the BJP and SP of having knitted a behind-doors deal, she says the SP replaced its candidate Ashok Bajpai to split the secular votes and help Mr. Singh.

"(SP MLA and its candidate) Abhishek Mishra was brought to create noise and confuse the voters," says Ms. Joshi.

Also, she alleges, actor Javed Jaffrey, the AAP candidate, was fielded to eat away the Muslim votes.

"The BSP leadership, including Satish Mishra, is assisting him."

Ms. Joshi says the other parties are trying to buy out Congress leaders. "Why else would only Congress leaders desert to these parties?" The Congress's district head Neeraj Bora recently quit the party and extended his support for Mr. Singh.

Ms. Joshi is primarily banking on the consolidation of Muslim and Brahmin votes. But the daughter of former UP CM Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and sister of Vijay Bahuguna, Ms. Joshi is confident that her father's legacy will provide her a "huge base" in Lucknow. Add to that her "association" with the Pahadi community (from Uttarakhand) in the constituency, roughly 1.75 lakh voters.

Her main opponent, Mr. Singh has also tried to win over the community by associating personal relations with it. "He has no links with the community. His is political wooing, mine is association built over many years," Ms. Joshi says.