Strong & Surging Ahead : ARUN SOOD

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In 1989, the brutal massacre of 25 people at the RSS Shakha in his hometown Moga (Punjab), was a traumatic, life-changing episode. He was 18-year-old back then. The loss of a close friend in that tragic incident shook him badly. However, he was astounded at the grit and determination of Swayamsevak’s who attended a Shakha the next day, at the same spot, standing close to a pool of blood! He instantly knew where he belonged and wanted to be one among those fearless Swayamsevak’s.

Meet the youngest State Head of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Chandigarh, Mr Arun Sood, who surges ahead fearlessly, a virtue he owned from his early life. Here is a conversation between this young leader (now 50) and The Lifestyle Journalist Editor-in-Chief Dr Neha Miglani.

Please walk us through your journey.

My parents, who worked in the education department, shifted to Chandigarh in 1981 when I was in fifth grade. During the terrorism days in Punjab, I often wondered as a child- why this atrocity, why these killings? It used to disturb me constantly. The massacre in my birthplace Moga (Punjab), in 1989 shook me badly. I lost a classmate in the bloodshed. I knew instantly I belong here (to RSS)- to the clan of fearless men who contribute to the nation and society without fear. 

In 1989, I joined Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and later the student organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, ABVP, from 1990 till 2000. I studied in DAV College, Chandigarh and assumed various posts as a student leader. I was the State Secretary of ABVP, and during the terrorism days (1992-1996), I joined Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, to pursue LLB. I had the option of doing an MBA, MCA and LLB from Panjab
University, Chandigarh, but I was sent (by the organisation) to contribute in GNDU. I returned in 1996, and the first student elections happened in Panjab University, Chandigarh, following our agitation. I began practising law in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1997.

From 2000-2003, I was heading the BJP Youth Wing as the Punjab State General Secretary. However, in 2003 I left politics because somehow I found myself a misfit. I was connected to other allied social organisations, including Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, VHP and Swadeshi Jagran Mach.

 Later in 2007, on the intervention and insistence of Sh. Manohar Lal Khattar, the then North India BJP Organising Secretary, I joined back politics. He wanted to bring new faces to the party to revive the party in the region. In 2010 I was given the responsibility of State General Secretary. In December 2011, on the direction of the party high command, I contested elections for councillor. In 2013, when nobody was willing to contest the elections for the post of Mayor in Chandigarh from our party (since we were in a weak position, and it was a
known fact that we would lose), on the directions of the party, I contested and lost. I then resolved that I shall compete again for the post and win. I fought again in 2016 for the post of Mayor and won. With determination, we fought the election and turned impossible into possible. After 15 years, BJP had its Mayor in the city. Ironically, I had barely ten months to work as a Mayor- since I joined on January 8, 2016, and the code of conduct was imposed on November 14, 2016. Despite the time restraint, the city got 50 projects in these ten months, which was unprecedented. I got Rs 300 crore special grant for the city from the centre

A project very close to my heart- 29 MGD of raw water (Waterwork supply, phase 5 and 6) from Kajauli waterworks, which began in 2016 and was completed in 2019, was commenced during my tenure as Mayor. This project is significant since it solved the water problem in the city for 100 years to come! It particularly eased the demand of residents during peak summers. In 2019, when the project was being delayed, I visited Kajauli waterworks personally 42 times and got it completed.  The Manimajra underpass project, which was another significant move, was initiated by me. It provided relief to nearly 2 lac commuters who passed through the level crossing and faced substantial traffic snarls daily.  Because of all this development work, since 2016, BJP has been coming to power in the city. I was elected MC councillor twice and once as Mayor. On January 17, 2020, I was elected as BJP’s youngest head in the state.

Top 3 reforms for the city on your mind.

Better sewerage system for the city by doing away with the existing brick wall system. Better stormwater drainage systems and laying new water pipes are all essential issues.It has been 60 years of its existence; the city must now move towards a democratic status. The bureaucrats who are posted here are from Punjab and Haryana cadres. The city must have people who can understand the issues and feel the pain. The deputation system must be done away with now. There is no political say, and therefore people’s problems cannot be
taken up appropriately. There is no legislative assembly here. Municipal Corporation has no real powers, and the Mayor is toothless! The Mayor must have financial and executive powers both to bring about concrete development. Similar to Puducherry, there must be a strong democratic establishment. Even Kolkata has a Mayor-in-Council. Chandigarh needs to be maintained by its people. Most importantly, the people here need to develop a strong sense of ownership and belongingness. I urge them to fight for a democratic set up in the city.

Message to People of Chandigarh

“People of this city need to awaken a sense of belongingness from within. The collective consciousness has to awaken. It is the 4th generation of the city now, and it’s time that we fight for a democratic setup. The deputation system must be done away with. Chandigar must have its own unique identity, and residents must fight for it.”

What are your political aspirations?

None! This was not my profession (politics). I am here to contribute and work for the betterment of society. I am very passionate about it, and it has been my childhood dream. Whatever has happened to me in my political career so far has been largely unplanned, and I have not asked for it. 
What changes do you experience as a commoner (not as a politician) under India’s
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji’s leadership?

Firstly, the swiftness and efficiency with which the government handled the Covid-19 pandemic is commendable. We had no resources when the first wave hit India. Immediately, a lockdown was imposed, and medical infrastructure was put in place to combat the pandemic. Given the massive size of our country, we initially had no N-95 masks, equipment, ventilators, and just one testing lab. But it was the far-sightedness of the government that from one testing lab, we can now do more than 20 lac tests per day. The pandemic was turned into an opportunity, and India is now supplying medical infrastructure to the world. Not just medically, but the government was supporting people financially too. For ten months, free ration was given and even now, from April 2021 till Diwali, free ration is being provided. So unlike many other countries, here in India, the situation was addressed finically too. In January 2020, the first Covid-19 case surfaced, and by March 2020, a nod was given to create the vaccine. Within nine months, we already had our indigenous vaccination. Our vaccination drive has been an example setter.

Secondly, we have moved towards a corruption-free and transparent government, which was not the case earlier. 

Thirdly, the manner in which India is viewed globally has completely changed ever since Sh. Narendra Modi ji took over. Our global reputation and stature have changed. Red carpets are rolled, and protocols are broken to welcome our PM; this is a significant change. Our defence forces have become stronger; the manner in which conflict with China is being tackled is a case in point.   Small issues, which could have been resolved easily in the last 70 years but were never paid attention to, have now got a headway under the current leadership. Be it creation of toilets, supply of electricity to 18,000 villages of India, ‘housing for all’ by 2022 under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna, Pradhan Mantri Beema Yojna, digitisation of revenue records, and many others. ‘Swacchh Bharat Abyaan’ itself has brought a significant shift.

Do you counsel your children on education and career? How do you deal with them?

My children are brilliant and get a scholar badge in every class. They are free to choose whatever career they want to. My son wanted to take up Mathematics and Economics since both were his strong subjects. My daughter has a strong inclination towards creative abilities. We discuss with them their interests and eventually want them to choose for themselves. I am blessed with a supportive family. My wife, Ambika, is a working parent and yet manages to take care of everyone. I am fully satisfied with my life, and that is a great motivation to do something for others.  I feel that one must work for the larger good- for the betterment of society, for a bigger cause. I want to instil these values in my children, irrespective of whatever profession they enter.

Standing (L-R) Akshad (Son), Arun Sood Sitting (L-R) Akshadha (Daughter), Ambika Sood

Message to his family 
“It has been my childhood dream to serve people and society. However, with marriage and children, our responsibilities multiply, and I know I am not able to give enough time to my family. But I want to say that all the blessings of people, who benefit from whatever good happens in city or society, will come back to you manifold. It is because of them (my family) that I can contribute to others’ lives. My children are very intelligent, and my wife is a tremendous pillar of strength for the family. She is a working parent and yet manages to take care of everyone.”

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