Uttarakhand Minister Yashpal Arya's Ghar Wapsi: What Does it Mean for Congress?

In 2016, when the Congress leaders had revolted, Arya was the last to join the saffron camp along with his son.

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Giving a big jolt to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttarakhand, state Cabinet minister and senior Dalit leader Yashpal Arya, joined the Congress party in Delhi, along with his son, Sanjeev Arya, an MLA from Nainital constituency.

Arya quitting the BJP, ahead of the Assembly election in Uttarakhand, is no small coincidence since it inevitably paves a “Ghar Wapsi” way for Congress leaders, like Harak Singh Rawat, Umesh Kumar Kau and others, who had raised the flag of revolt against CM Harish Rawat in 2016. And if that happens, then BJP's problems will grow manifold in the Himalayan state where it stormed to power in 2017.

Arya is a three-time MLA and held the portfolio of transport minister in the BJP government. In 2016, when the Congress leaders had revolted, Arya was the last to join the saffron camp along with his son.


Interestingly, Arya is the first to stage the comeback to the Congress and this speaks a lot about his decision.

At the AICC office Arya and his son joined the Congress in presence of Harish Rawat. Other senior leaders present during the small joining ceremony were Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal, Uttarakhand in charge Devender Yadav among others.

Arya termed his joining back the Congress party as his happiest moment.

“Today I am coming back to my family and returning home. There can’t be a day better than this. In my political life of 40 years, I have continued to work as district president, speaker, and state president. I will serve Congress without any condition and will cooperate in the formation of the Congress government in the state.”
Yashpal Arya

The BJP had an inkling of Arya’s plan for returning to the Congress party. On 25 September, CM Pushkar Singh Dhami had landed up at Arya’s official residence for a breakfast meeting. Undoubtedly, the breakfast diplomacy did not work out well to keep in the saffron flock.

Bazpur, Arya’s constituency, has a huge population of Sikh voters who have been agitating against the farm laws and in the coming election they would be breathing down his neck.

What Does Yashpal Arya's Entry Mean for Congress?

Last month when Congress leader and former chief minister Harish Rawat in a party meeting expressed that he would wish to see a Dalit CM of Uttarakhand in his life time.


Since Rawat’s remark came in the backdrop of the Congress appointing a Dalit leader, Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister of Punjab, it was all too obvious that Congress wants to adopt the same model to revive its fortune in the hill state.

Arya’s joining in the Congress party looks to be the part of the larger plan of wooing over 18 percent Dalit votes in Uttarakhand.

Congress' Dalit Card

Much like in UP, the BSP has a solid cadre Dalit vote scattered in all 70 Assembly seats in thirteen districts. In eighteen Assembly seats in two districts – Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar – Dalit vote is a game -changer.

The vote share of the BSP has declined in the recent past. The BSP’s vote percentage went from 10.2 percent in 2002 to 12.2 percent in 2012 but by 2017, it came down to 7 percent.

In two seats, Laksar and Jhabrera both in Haridwar district, the BSP had been the runner up in the 2017 election, in spite of the Modi-wave. No wonder Harish Rawat chose Congress' meeting in Laksar to express his desire to have a Dalit CM in Uttarakhand.

By wooing the Dalit votes, the party can hope to add over 7-10 percent of Dalit votes, which last election had gone to the BJP. In 2017, the Congress vote share was 33.8 percent and it won 11 seats, and addition of 7-10 percent vote would help it win over a dozen of seats in the plain districts.


Arya’s Exit a Loss for BJP?

In Dehradun, BJP national spokesperson Anil Baluni, had talked of putting up a houseful board for Uttarakhand Congress leaders who are waiting to join the BJP.

Arya and his son's entry in Congress has signalled that the times are now changing and which way, winds are blowing.

In Uttarakhand, turncoats turn table and in 2016 the state saw a string of Congress MLAs changing sides that brought the Harish Rawat government to its knees.

In September, BJP brought two sitting legislators — Congress MLA Raj Kumar, Purola (SC seat) and one independent Pritam Pawar, MLA Dhanolti seat, to the saffron fold, taking Congress and others by surprise. Last Sunday another MLA, Ram Singh Kaira, from Bhimtal constituency joined the BJP in Delhi. So far three MLAs have joined the BJP but Arya’s exit might be the beginning of a bigger tectonic change. The biggest challenge now for the BJP, is how to hold on to the rebel Congress leaders who are in BJP at present.

In the list of probable Congress rebel leaders and MLAs who might swing back to Congress has heavyweights, Umesh Sharma Kau and Harak Singh Rawat. Keeping these rebel MLAs in good humour won't be easy for the BJP.

BJP’s Troubles to Increase?

BJP had stormed into power in the 2017 election by winning 57 seats in Uttarakhand but it must not be forgotten that in 2017, even during the peak Modi wave, in 13 Assembly seats the victory margin was between 700 to 2,700 votes both in hills and plains.


Among the prominent BJP leaders who won with low victory margins include CM Pushkar Singh Dhami who won by 2,709 votes in the Khatima constituency. Similarly Cabinet minister Rekha Arya won by just 710 votes from the Someshwar seat.

So, for the BJP, cosying up to leaders of Opposition parties, is an inevitable election strategy. No wonder the BJP has plans to barrel the Operation Lotus again in Uttarakhand to woo leaders from rival parties. It remains to be seen if the BJP manages to pull off a 2016 styled coup again in 2021 or if it fails to change the electoral narrative.

(Yogesh Kumar is an independent journalist, who has extensively covered politics, finance and disaster in Uttarakhand. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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