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Poll predicts Laloo return
- Change forecast for Jharkhand

New Delhi, Jan. 15: Laloo Prasad Yadav looks set to remain king of Bihar but he might finally have to tango with Sonia Gandhi's Congress, an opinion poll said today.

According to The Telegraph-STAR News-AC Nielsen's first survey ahead of the February polls in three states, only Laloo Prasad is in with a chance to cling to his crown. His Rashtriya Janata Dal might, however, have to seek Congress and Left support to make the 122 simple majority mark.

Both Arjun Munda's BJP-led government in Jharkhand and .P. Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal regime in Haryana are projected to be swept out of power. The two regimes have respective approval ratings of 45 and 42 per cent, compared with that of Rabri Devi, which has only 34 per cent.

The survey, based on a sample size of 31,600 voters from 158 constituencies in the three states, forecasts 105-108 seats for the RJD and its prospective Left allies in Bihar, 14-17 seats short of simple majority.

It suggests Laloo Prasad might have to pay a price ' however small ' for not entering into a poll pact with the Congress and for his running spat with Lok Janshakti Party rival Ram Vilas Paswan.

The seat count of the RJD, which has over 120 in the outgoing Assembly, is projected to dip. Its tally, combined with those of prospective allies Left and Nationalist Congress Party, is not likely to cross 108 seats. But a marginal rise is predicted for the Congress, even if it goes alone.

Although the Congress is reluctant to forge an open alliance with the LJP, the survey suggests such an alliance will benefit both parties and adversely hit the performances of the RJD-led camp and the main Opposition camp, the BJP-Janata Dal (U).

Fighting separately, the Congress could win 20 seats and the LJP 22, but if they team up, their combined tally could touch 50, the survey said. In this case, the RJD camp's tally could drop from 108 to 105 seats and that of the BJP-Dal (U) from 78 to 73.

The projection is in line with a school of thought in the state Congress that it should tie up with the LJP to maximise benefits. The opinion is based on an internal assessment that Muslims ' said to be a dominant factor in nearly 70 seats ' could desert the RJD and tilt to the Congress if it aligns with the LJP.

In Jharkhand, the survey does not predict a split verdict though the Congress and the RJD are set to go separate ways. The Congress-JMM combine is projected to win a two-thirds majority, bagging 55 of the 81 seats. The BJP- Dal (U) might get only 17.

In Haryana, the Congress is projected to return to power after nine years, bagging 65 of the 90 seats. The INLD might mop up only 15.

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