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Survey shows Laloo setback

Feb. 3: Laloo Prasad Yadav is stumbling on his pocket boroughs and the BJP combine is making inroads there, suggests an exit poll after the first phase of elections today.

The exit poll, carried out by AC Nielsen for The Telegraph and STAR News, has projected for Laloo Prasad Yadav's alliance 28 of the 64 seats that went to polls today ' a loss of five seats from the last elections. The Congress runs the risk of losing the lone seat it bagged last time in the first leg.

The BJP combine is expected to win 21 seats in this phase ' a gain of three seats. Laloo Yadav's bitter rival Ram Vilas Paswan also seemed to be on strong wicket, slated to win six seats. Worked out on basis of trend in the first phase, overall projections suggest that Laloo Prasad Yadav could lose a fourth of the 123 seats he holds in the outgoing 243-member Assembly.

The Bihar strongman may have more bad news in store in neighbouring Jharkhand where he has put up a large number of candidates against the JMM-Congress combine.

According to the exit poll, the Congress-JMM combine is expected to brave the RJD's spoiler factor and win 45 seats in the 81-member Assembly in Jharkhand. The RJD, which has nine seats now, may end up with three.

In Haryana, where all 90 seats went to poll today, the Congress may secure almost a two-thirds' majority. The exit poll gave the Congress 58 seats.

According to the exit poll, the BJP-Janata Dal (United) combine may almost bag as many seats as that of the RJD and its Left allies, pointing to a close race for power in Bihar. While half-way through the election process, the BJP-Dal(U) combine is seen to be staging a recovery, it may not be enough for it to trounce Laloo Prasad.

But this is no comfort for Laloo Prasad. Because, even if the Opposition combine may be way behind the simple majority mark of 123 seats in the Assembly, the RJD leader would still be at the mercy of Paswan. The exit poll projected Paswan's LJP winning as many as 31 seats ' against its tally of four in the outgoing Assembly.

The expected Congress tally of 18 seats would not add up for Laloo Prasad to cobble together a simple majority.

Paswan is unlikely to prop up another RJD-led government without himself also getting a hold over the state.

The exit poll trend may be a confirmation of the worst that the RJD camp has feared during the campaigning for the first phase of polling ' that the Muslims who constituted a crucial part of Laloo Prasad's winning MY (Muslim-Yadav) social base might have eroded in this election.

Laloo Prasad's best hope now lies in Muslim voters who may be prompted by the bad news to rally around him in the rest of the seats to thwart the BJP.

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