National

A Shimla ‘Chaiwala’ Elbows Out BJP Heavyweight In Ticket Race

Tea-seller Sanjay Sood has become the party’s hot choice for the ticket to contest Shimla (Urban) in place of sitting minister and former state BJP president Suresh Bhardwaj

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Sanjay Sood is a tea-seller and currently the treasurer of the state BJP unit
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“You are also a chaiwala like me?” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked Rurki Ahmad Rajasaheb, a differently-abled small-time businessman and para-table tennis player, in his virtual interaction with stakeholders of AtmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan in October 2021. 

Miles away in Shimla, another chaiwala named Sanjay Sood, has caught the attention of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He has become the party’s hot choice for the ticket to contest Shimla (Urban) in place of the sitting minister and former state BJP president Suresh Bhardwaj. Bhardwaj, who was first elected to the state assembly 32 years back and also served as a Rajya Sabha member, besides party chief, was denied a ticket and shifted to Shimla’s constituency, Kasumpti, a suburb with an urban-rural mix.

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Despite his initial reluctance, Bhardwaj filed his nomination papers on Friday, and Sood followed the suit. The mood, indeed, was different on both sides. “It’s true. I own a tea shop at an old bus stand. That’s the primary means of my livelihood. I have also sold newspapers in Shimla since 1979. My entire schooling and college education counted on small earnings out of newspaper sales and tea,” he tells Outlook.

Sood, however, claims he never applied for the party ticket. He did not even lobby for this, but admits having been consulted by the party on being made candidate in the 2022 poll.

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A three-time councilor at Shimla Municipal Corporation, twice elected and once nominated, Sood rose from ABVP to district BJP chief and is currently treasurer of the state party unit. “Barring BJP National President J. P. Nadda, who was also an ABVP activist like me, I don't know anyone else in the party at Delhi high command,” he says.

Ask him how he would react if PM Modi calls him and asks “Aap bhi meri tarah chaiwala ho (You too are tea-sellers like me)?" Sood says, “I will not be able to gather the strength to speak to him. I am overwhelmed by the party's decision to field me from Shimla.” Sood lives in a joint family. “We are four brothers. My wife, Sunita, is a lawyer while my daughter has just completed her architecture degree.”

Sood faces the former deputy Mayor of Shimla Harish Janartha, who unsuccessfully contested the 2017 election but lost out to Suresh Bhardwaj, a BJP heavyweight. The CPM has fielded former Deputy Mayor Tikender Singh Parwar in place of former Mayor Sanjay Chauhan.

While Bhardwaj camp feels Sood had lobbied against him and got him elbowed out of Shimla—a constituency he had nursed since 1990, especially during his current term as minister for Urban Development: overseeing implementation of Smart-City project. “I have no idea why the BJP has shifted me out of Shimla. My only regret is that I should have been sounded about it well in time, instead of a last-minute change. Being a disciplined party soldier, I have accepted the decision,” Bhardwaj said when contacted.

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Asked about his plans for Shimla if elected, Sood says, “I have served as councilor in the town for a long time. People have seen my work. Once the campaign starts, I will certainly unfold my and the party's vision on Shimla. Besides being a capital of the state, it is also a town, which has witnessed many historical moments of pre and post-Independence. I will work to preserve its glory and address basic problems people face here.”
 

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