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Sushma first among seconds

New Delhi, Sept. 22: Signals from the Sangh suggest the days of larger-than-life presidents are over in the BJP and that L.K. Advani may get replaced by a “faceless” leader after December.

In such circumstances, the results of a secret survey that shows Sushma Swaraj and Pramod Mahajan as the two most popular leaders in the party’s second rung may have the opposite effect of harming their prospects in the race for the president’s post.

The secret survey ' The Telegraph is privy to the findings ' is titled “BJP GeNext 2005”. The survey was conducted by market research agency C-Voter between May 22 and June 2 in 22 states and Union territories with a sample size of 15,000, covering 136 Lok Sabha seats.

Sources confirmed the survey was commissioned by Advani himself, but the BJP president denied having done so.

“These rumours started when Mr Advani, in an interview after the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, said the BJP would fight the next general elections with a younger leader in charge. Since then, people have been trying to project themselves through such surveys. It is baseless and wrong to suggest that Mr Advani commissioned any such survey,” said Deepak Chopra, the party chief’s secretary.

Advani’s former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni said: “I don’t know anything about it.”

The sources said only two copies of the survey exist ' one with Advani himself and the other with the survey agency.

Yashwant Deshmukh of C-Voter refused to confirm or deny that his agency conducted the survey.

The survey reveals that the popularity of second-generation BJP leaders is “region specific”.

For instance, Rajnath Singh is popular in Uttar Pradesh whereas Vasundhara Raje tops the charts in Rajasthan. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi beats everyone while Pramod Mahajan is the favourite in Maharashtra. Uma Bharti is most popular in Madhya Pradesh.

Still, Sushma Swaraj comes first among equals in the cumulative figures with a popularity percentage of about 40.

So paranoid were the other GeNext leaders after leaks from this survey that they commissioned their own. The “favourable” findings of some such surveys were circulated in the media.

The situation has changed drastically now with the Sangh edging Advani out. After Advani leaves, the Sangh wants to curb “personality cults” in the BJP. So, “popularity” may not really help Sushma and Mahajan.

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