The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal needles Congress with pep talk
- Prime Minister asks vanquished rivals not to lose heart after triple drubbing

Abuja (Nigeria), Dec. 6: Far from native shores, Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems to be still savouring the election victories at home. It’s time for him to be generous on a dispirited Opposition — which could well be his way of rubbing the Congress wounds.

To a small group of the Indian community, which came to see the Prime Minister lay the foundation of the new Indian embassy in the Nigerian capital here, Vajpayee was expansive and advised the Opposition (read the Congress) not to lose heart at its stunning defeats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“Some people” were “surprised” at the election results, but in a democracy “people come and go”. The Opposition, he said, is a part of the government in a democracy.

“I had been in the Opposition for 50 years. The Opposition is paid to criticise the government.” The dig, rather than the platitude, drew an applause from the small audience.

That Vajpayee was on a high over the poll victories was apparent even when he met the accompanying Indian delegation on the special Air-India flight shortly before his departure for Abuja day before yesterday.

He spoke with the media for longer than usual for the pre-departure conversation. Actually, he seemed keen to talk more on the elections, but questions on Pakistan cut the conversation short.

But he continues to be in a relaxed mood. Before laying the foundation for the new Indian embassy here this afternoon, he recalled that no Indian Prime Minister had visited Nigeria for the past 40 years.

“But it isn’t even five years I have been Prime Minister. It would be unfair to blame me for what had happened in the past 40 years,” he quipped.

He, however, made it clear that India was preparing to enlarge and improve its relations with Nigeria, which is India’s largest trading partner in Africa. He also announced that Air-India was planning to introduce commercial flights between New Delhi and Lagos, Nigeria’s main commercial city and its capital until 1991. Air-India would thus be reintroducing its Nigerian connection after 16 years.

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