Following the arrest of Pulkit Arya, the prime accused in the murder of 19-year-old Ankita Bhandari, last week, the Uttarakhand BJP expelled his father Vinod Arya and elder brother Ankit Arya from the party. The Pushkar Singh Dhami-led BJP government also removed Ankit from his post as the Uttarakhand OBC Commission vice president.
Ankita had joined Pulkit’s resort in Uttarakhand’s Laxman Jhula area as a receptionist late last month. Days after she went missing, the police recovered Ankita’s body from a canal on September 24, a day after they arrested Pulkit and two others charging that he had confessed to pushing her into the canal after an altercation.
Vinod Arya, who enjoyed the rank of a minister of state in the previous Trivendra Singh Rawat-led BJP government, was never considered to be a mass leader or had any notable support base, but used his influence to gain proximity to senior BJP leaders.
Many in the state BJP believe that Vinod, who hails from Haridwar, was inducted into the party fold mainly for his business interests in swadeshi ayurveda. Later, the BJP dispensation appointed Vinod as the chairman of the Uttarakhand Mati Board with a state minister’s rank.
“He (Vinod) was never a mass leader or brought votes to the party. Vinod Arya is well known in the area for running the Swadeshi Ayurveda firm and that is why many in the party believed that it would be good to have someone with the swadeshi tag. Once in the party, he started staking claims for different posts. In meetings, he used to say that he is a senior leader and should be given suitable recognition. With that, he was given the rank of a minister of state,” said a state BJP leader.
Vinod later used his political influence to further expand his ayurveda business. The Pulkit-owned Vanantra Resort in Laxman Jhula area is cited as an example in this regard. Vinod’s elder son Ankit also joined the BJP and was later made the state OBC Commission vice president.
It is believed in state political circles that since Vinod was just a “symbolic face” in the saffron party, he was “dispensable”. This was apparent in the BJP’s swift action against him and Ankit, even as the Ankita Bhandari murder case set off massive public outrage.
Soon after Ankita’s body was recovered, the BJP cracked down on both Vinod and Ankit.
CM Dhami ordered the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the case, even as senior police officers declared that the accused were booked under the Gangster Act.
The district administration also demolished a section of the Vanantra resort, which sparked a controversy amid allegations that it was a bid to “destroy” crucial evidence from the resort. These allegations were however denied by the police, with DGP Ashok Kumar and DIG P Renuka Devi, the SIT chief, saying that the resort was sealed after a detailed videography last Thursday itself. “We have all the evidence secured in the case,” senior police officials said.
As the BJP announced last Saturday that it has fired Vinod and Ankit on state party chief Mahendra Bhatt’s direction, Vinod claimed that he and Ankit had already submitted their resignation from all party posts.
“Pulkit Arya is my son, but he was living separately for a long time. We are responsible people. We decided that as long as the investigation is going on, and to ensure there is no misuse of my position, I submited my registration from all BJP posts. We will cooperate in all kinds of investigations. We want the truth to come out so that both Ankita and Pulkit can get justice,” Vinod said. Asked if he had any idea Pulkit was involved in such activities, he claimed his son’s name was never linked to any criminal activity.
However, the DGP confirmed that Pulkit had a case pending against him, registered at Haridwar Kotwali, for allegedly cheating in the Uttarakhand Ayurveda Pre-Medical Test (UAPMT) in 2016 by getting someone else appear at the exam in his place.
There are also allegations against Vinod and his supporters of threatening journalists for reporting against him. The Uttarakhand Police on Monday confirmed receiving a complaint from a local journalist, Ashutosh Negi, adding they have registered a case on its basis. “A private news portal journalist Ashutosh Negi has lodged a complaint with the Raipur police station regarding a threat call received by him on his phone. We have soon registered a case in the matter and have started the investigation,” said the police in a statement.
Pahad TV journalist Naval Khali also said he received similar threats. He charged that he was doing a live interview with Negi when he received several calls which he missed. Following the interview, Khali received another call. In his call recording, the person on the other side could be heard purportedly asking him if the live show was over and then suggesting that “he
should speak less and take care of himself”. The police is also probing this case.
Meanwhile, CM Dhami on Wednesday announced a financial assistance of Rs 25 lakh for Ankita Bhandari’s family. He has also advocated for trying the case in a fast-track court.