In a public admission, UPA ally Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Wednesday said he expected the BJP to emerge as the single largest party, followed by the Congress, in the Lok Sabha elections.

However, he maintained, the NDA would still fall short of the half-way mark and the support of regional players would be critical in deciding which grouping formed the government.

“I have to accept that the BJP will win a respectable number of seats. It is likely to gain in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. I do not expect gains for them in the South,” Mr. Pawar said at a media interaction after addressing a rally in Alibag, close to Mumbai.

Mr. Pawar said he also expected good performance by Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.

Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal too could play a significant role, he added.

The NCP supremo clarified that his party would remain with the UPA even after the polls and that allying with the NDA was not an option for his party.

Even as he denied again Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s claim that he had tried to join the NDA, Mr. Pawar said as many as eight MPs from that party were in touch with him and the Congress, wanting to switch sides.

Mr. Pawar said that while Uddhav had inherited his father, Balasaheb Thackeray’s party, his cousin Raj built his own party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and was getting good response. “The performance of Raj Thackeray’s party in the last elections shows that it cannot be taken lightly.”

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