It would have been a matter of pride for the Punjab Congress top brass to welcome and watch Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveil the foundation stone for the cancer cure multispecialty centre here on Monday. But the party's top leaders Partap Singh Bajwa, Capt Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal were conspicuous by their absence.
Punjab state president Partap Singh Bajwa's name was among those of the chief minister and Punjab governor Shivraj Patil for receiving the Prime Minister at the helipad. Bajwa was also reportedly among those slated to be present on the dais.
The show became all the more significant for local MP Ravneet Bittu who found himself as the party's only main leader present on the occasion along with a bunch of Congress MLAs from his parliamentary constituency.
"It was kept a low-key non-political affair," said Bittu, when asked for the absence of the party's senior state leadership. "The Prime Minister also wanted it to be a non-political event," he added. He, however, said all Congress MLAs from his constituency had attended the function.
Bajwa remained inaccessible for his comment on his absence from the event where all the Akali-BJP cabinet ministers had lined up to welcome the Prime Minister, with Bittu only the Congress figure in the queue.
Officially sharing the dais with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, as Singh pressed the button to unveil the foundation stone, Bittu looked keen to steal the show.
His signals gave a political tone to the event as he even sought the ticket for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in his speech from the dais in the presence of SAD patron and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
"Rahul Gandhi had chosen me (for the last Lok Sabha elections), and if I get the ticket this time also with your blessings, I will be thankful to you," said Bittu.
He even brought his party colleague and local MLA Jagmohan Kang on the stage to present a memento, the picture of Gurdwara Kesgarh Sahib, parallel to the gold-plated plaque of the Golden Temple presented by the chief minister to the Prime Minister.
The Congress MP also chose to occupy Badal's chair adjacent to the Prime Minister's as the chief minister went to the podium for the public address. But he failed to catch the attention of the Prime Minister, who opted to look straight into the crowd.
Bittu, in his speech, also indicated at the upcoming 5-star hotel near Mullanpur, rumoured to be owned by the Badals, saying, "I do not make assets like 5-star hotels and anyone can have a look at my bank balance."
Bittu, while seeking the ticket, announced that he had accumulated about Rs 1.8 crore by selling off his assets for the forthcoming elections.
The Akali and the Congress cadres in the crowd raised slogans hailing their respective party leaders - "Sardar Parkash Singh Badal zindabad", "Ravneet Singh Bittu zindabad".
A security breach?
As soon as Badal presented a replica of the Golden Temple to the Prime Minister, Bittu disappeared for a minute and re-emerged along with party colleague MLA Jagmohan Kang who was not listed among those to be present on the dais.