Uttarakhand: Will This Father-Son Duo's Homecoming Do Congress a World of Good?

Former minister Yashpal Arya’s area of influence spreads over many seats in the Kumaon region and could prove to be the crucial difference in the February 14 polls.

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New Delhi: Former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat recently praised former cabinet minister Yashpal Arya, who last year rejoined the Congress after leaving BJP, saying he had the capability of running the state.

After Charanjit Singh Channi became the first person from the Dalit community to become chief minister of Punjab, Rawat had said that he “intends to see a Dalit CM in the upper caste-dominated Uttarakhand”. His praise for Arya, who is also from the Dalit community, should be seen in this context.

This time, Rawat’s statement has come barely 10 days before the state goes to polls on February 14. Speaking at an election meeting at Bareli Road in Teenpani, Rawat – who himself also nurtures the ambition to be the next CM – said after Narain Dutt Tiwari, he tried to stabilise things for the party in Uttarakhand. When looks to the future, he sees only Arya as a leader with that potential.

Rawat’s statement also assumes significance as 20% of Uttarakhand’s population are Dalits and can have a significant impact on the outcome of any election. Dalit voters have a clear influence in at least 20 of the 70 seats in the state. At a time when most opinion polls have predicted the election to be a close contest between the Congress and the BJP, every vote can prove decisive.

While Rawat’s statements may surprise many since Arya had walked out of the party with his son Sanjiv in January 2017, a month before the state went to polls, and had thereafter contributed to the fall of the Rawat government, the “let-bygones-be-bygones” approach of the Congress appears to be doing it a world of good.

The father-son duo wields a considerable amount of influence in the hills as also the plains of Kumaon. They have been campaigning hard for the party ever since their return in October 2021. Should Rawat be chosen by the Congress to be among its major firefighters and a prominent face in central party politics in future, this would leave the door open for Yashpal Arya to play a more significant role in Uttarakhand.

harish rawat

Congress leader Harish Rawat. Photo: PTI

Recently, state Congress general secretary Mathura Dutt Joshi said that Arya’s induction into the party along with that of Harak Singh Rawat “would definitely brighten its prospects”.

The senior Arya has been active in state politics since 1977. He has served as the Uttarakhand assembly speaker, state Congress president and a minister in the past, is the most prominent Dalit leader in the state. He is also a six-time MLA. A significant voice in the 12 SC seats in the state, Arya is this time going around seeking votes by telling people about the incompetence and corruption in the BJP government.

The seats where Arya is capable of impacting the swing in votes include Bajpur, Nainital, Someshwar, Ganolihat, Bageshwar, Pauri, Bhagwanpur, Jwalapur, Ghansali, Rajpur Road, Purola and Tharali.

Yashpal’s return fuels anger, but improves prospects

Yashpal Arya is contesting from Bajpur, which is one of the 29 constituencies in the Kumaon region, and which he had won in 2017. It is part of the Terai or the foothills area and falls under the Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar Lok Sabha constituency.

In 2017, Arya had, as a BJP candidate, defeated Sunita Tamta of the Congress by over 12,000 votes. This time, as he was given the ticket by Congress, Tamta is contesting as an Aam Aadmi Party candidate.

The BJP has fielded Rajesh Kumar, who contested this seat in 2012 for the saffron party and lost to Arya – then with the Congress.

Like the rest of the Udhamsingh Nagar district, there is a sizeable population of Dalit Sikhs in Bajpur. Also, this time Sikhs in general are unhappy with the BJP due to the farm laws it brought and its handling of the farmers’ agitation. The Lakhimpur Kheri incident has further added to their anger.

Party affiliation matters little in Nainital

Sanjiv Arya is the Congress candidate from Nainital, which is a reserved constituency for Scheduled Caste candidates. He is seeking to retain the seat he had won in 2017 on a BJP ticket. The saffron party has this time fielded Sarita Arya, who was earlier in the Congress and had won this seat in 2012. A former state Congress women’s unit president, Sarita had joined the BJP only last month. That she was chosen an the candidate has annoyed several others in the saffron party.

But the list of ‘defectors’ contesting the polls in Nainital this time does not end here. The Aam Aam Party has fielded Hem Arya, who has earlier been with both  the Congress and the BJP.