The Congress hand, seen behind Sanjha Morcha leader Simarpartap Singh Barnala during the filing of his nomination papers for the Dhuri assembly seat, is missing from his byelection campaign.
Neither former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh nor Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa or any other prominent Congress leader has been seen canvassing for him. Simarpartap, grandson of veteran leader Surjit Singh Barnala, is contesting on the Congress symbol under a coalition agreement.
On March 23, when he filed the nomination papers, the big Congress leaders said they would campaign for him. “From common party worker to tallest leader of the Punjab Congress, will camp in Dhuri” All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Shakeel Ahmed had said.
Even local Congress leaders such as former legislator Dhanwant Singh Dhuri and Mai Roop Kaur, both of whom were ticket contenders, are also missing from the campaign. In absence of senior leaders, there is confusion among the local party workers, who are reluctant to team up with the Sanja Morcha leaders.
Sources in the Congress said state party president Bajwa had asked the party high command to direct Amarinder to camp in Dhuri, as Arvind Khanna, whose resignation forced the election, belonged to Amarinder’s faction. Amarinder, however, doesn’t want to take charge of the campaign when Bajwa is at helm of state Congress affairs.
“We have asked both Bajwa and Amarinder to let us know by Saturday the days they’ll be free to campaign, so that we can draw the electioneering programme. So far, only local Congress leaders are campaigning,” said former legislator Gagandeep Barnala, father of Simarpartap.
While the Congress is missing from the scene, the Akalis, after the end of the budget session of the assembly, have started assembling in Dhuri. Rural development minister Sikandar Singh Maluka is assigned to launch the campaign, while deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has called all prominent leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for a meeting.
“The SAD has a plan. The entire seat will be divided into clusters, and a cabinet minister will be in charge of each for campaigning,” said an Akali leader. “Sukhbir himself will assign duties to his ministers and the other legislators on Friday,” said SAD candidate Gobind Singh Longowal.