Arun Sood, the then leader of the Opposition in the House, was among the nine councillors who had taken their family members on study tour to Chennai, Port Blair and Kolkata in September 2014. His wife, two children and niece went along with him that earned him flak like rest of the councillors. The audit slammed the MC for wasting public money on such study tours. However, Sood courted controversy for another reason as well. Sood’s brother-in-law and nephew owned the Panchkula firm that got the contract to organise the tour and did not go through any tender process.
“I had no role in that. Even Congress councillor Subhash Chawla made a statement to this effect,” claims Sood. As much Sood will wish all to forget it, his rivals will exploit this matter to the hilt in the elections.
Sood is presently the mayor — the first one from BJP in 15 years. Coming from Punjab’s Moga district, the former state BJP’s youth leader wields significant influence in the party’s local unit as he is soon close to party chief Sanjay Tandon in a faction-ridden outfit.
The practising advocate is ambitious and pushy, but lacks political gravitas. He exudes confidence which often borders on arrogance, say residents. For instance, he smugly declares he’s the ‘Devtaa’ (god) for the people of his ward! He asserts, “No one can defeat me. Congress is so scared of me that no one has applied for ticket from my ward.”
Most residents in his ward say that Sood started off well as a councillor, even focusing on development. After becoming mayor, he became inaccessible even as his performance dipped.
His ward comprising Southern Sectors of 37, 38 and 38 (west) has seen some development, but also encroachment. If a few swings in some parks have come up, a full-fledged unauthorised rehri market has emerged, just next to the Sector 37 temple. “Oh, that one’s only temporary,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.
Sood is presiding over a House which has shown immaturity in handling the much-touted multilevel parking project in Sector 17, the first such project here. Even otherwise, his term has been marred by rather strange rollback of decisions. Either these were not well thought-out in the first place, or the mayor gave in to pressure mounted by different groups.
In May this year, the MC decided to close two parking lots in the Sector 17 market and traders were told to park their vehicles in the multilevel parking. The traders protested and a week later, the MC gave in. The recent controversy involving a school in Sector 38 is yet another example of the mayor bowing to pressure from the public and the opposition.
It started when he handed over a walkers’ park in the sector for parking to a private school where his kids study. Feeling betrayed by the man who they had elected five years back, residents launched a signature campaign.
Quick to sense an opportunity, aggressive Congress leaders locked the mayor up in his car for 30-35 minutes. The mayor was forced to give in. Sood, however, denies that he favoured the school and insists he had acted on residents’ demand. “Later, residents opposed the decision and we changed it,” he says.
Quid pro quo or not, that image of a city mayor — confined in his car — will remain etched in public memory for a long time.
Becoming mayor in the election year provided Sood a perfect platform to serve the people and win the trust of the city and his ward. But he frittered it away.
TOMORROW: WARD 9 GURBAX RAWAT