The alleged absence of senior Congress leadership from campaigning for the July 11 Dasuya bypoll has become a poll issue.
The SAD-BJP combine is accusing the Congress leaders of confining themselves to 'air-conditioned' rooms or staying in hills rather than interacting with voters in the prevailing hot and humid weather.
Even though the Election Commission of India (EC) had declared the poll schedule on June 11, Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh has visited Dasuya just once to campaign for party candidate Arun Dogra on June 30.
Sources said that the former CM was now planning to address election meetings in Dasuya and Talwara on July 7 and 8. However, poll officials expressed ignorance of any such planned tour from the Congress leader.
The situation is no different with the newly appointed Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sunil Jakhar.
He has also visited Dasuya just once, on June 23, for filing the nomination papers of Dogra. However, Jakhar is credited with uniting different factions within the local Congress over Dogra's candidature.
Interestingly, the main aspirants for Punjab Congress presidentship - Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa and Congress Working Committee member Jagmeet Singh Brar and former CLP leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal - were yet to campaign, even as campaigning ends four days from now.
Even party candidate Arun 'Mickey' Dogra appears to have given up much before the contest.
The leaders deputed to the constituency by the party for campaigning revealed that Mickey appeared to be disinterested.
"He (Mickey) is really not taking it seriously," disclosed a leader, while adding, there appears no concern about the result probably presuming that the party's fate was already sealed.
Narrating an incident, three senior party leaders who have been deputed by the Punjab Congress to supervise the campaign, said that a few days ago they went searching for 'Mickey'. Dogra was found relaxing inside an air-conditioned room.
The Hindustan Times team has also discovered that a majority of members of election campaign committee constituted by the state Congress president were also missing from the election scene.
Punjab Youth Congress chief Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary and Punjab Mahila Congress president Dr Malti Thapar were also conspicuous by their presence. They have never visited Dasuya.
The attendant at Dogra's main office was not aware about the whereabouts of Kewal Dhillon, the poll campaign in-charge.
"We don't have any details about any senior leader's programmes. Kindly contact Luv Kumar Goldy, former MLA for the same," he told Hindustan Times.
SAD president and Punjab deputy cheif minister Sukhbir, while addressing rallies in different parts of the constituency, specifically reminds people about the missing 'Captain'.
"Congress leaders do not leave their air-conditioned rooms to reach out to the public, whereas SAD-BJP workers are serving the people of the constituency by reaching out to every village," Sukhbir said.
He quipped: "I am keen to watch Amarinder actually campaigning in villages in these sweltering summers."
Sukhbir predicts SAD victory
Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal has claimed that the Punjab Congress would collapse after its 'defeat' in the July 11 Dasuya bypoll.
Sukhbir, addressing a rally in favour of BJP nominee Sukhjit Kaur at Giljian village, said that the Congress leaders have accepted the fact their party would never return to power in the state. Quoting instances of states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, Sukhbir said historically, the Congress had ceased to be of any consequence in states where it remained out-of-power for more than five years. He said Congress was like "Amarbel" and could survive only by sucking public money, when in power.
He said after the 'inevitable' defeat in the by-poll, dejected Congress leaders would line up at SAD office to join the party.