The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal frees rout from riot

New Delhi, June 1: Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said “complacency” and “over-confidence”, not the Gujarat riots, may have played a role in the NDA’s shock defeat.

“Defeat is an issue for which reasons would have to be found though it has no link to violence,” Vajpayee said, asked if the riots were responsible for the debacle.

The former Prime Minister’s comment came after a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party that elected him chairman. L.K. Advani was named leader of the parliamentary party so that he can become leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

Vajpayee’s conclusion will offer some respite to Narendra Modi, who is fighting a rebellion by fellow party leaders who have started blaming the riots for the poll setback.

In his first public comments on the rout, Vajpayee said: “Overconfidence could be one of the causes of the defeat.”

He said another factor was “failure” to identify the rival. “While in the battlefield, the enemy is always identified, it was not so in this case,” he said, apparently referring to one of the party’s campaign planks — ‘Vajpayee versus question mark’.

Asked how long the Congress-led government would last, he said: “I don’t want to be in the Opposition for five years.” Party spokesperson V.K. Malhotra told reporters that Vajpayee told the meeting: “We will come back to power. We will have to think how to return (to power).”

Malhotra also quoted Advani as saying: “We are thinking of sitting in (the) Opposition for five years, but it is doubtful if the ruling party will allow us to do so.”

Addressing the newly elected members, Vajpayee said 90 sitting party MPs had lost though others, who have served five to six terms, have been returned. He said the “newcomers” need to “learn lessons from this”.

Asked if he did not want to be the leader of Opposition, Vajpayee said: “Bahut sambhala hai, ab Advaniji ko sambhalney do (I have done enough, now let Advani take charge).”

On Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to become Prime Minister, he said: “Everyone knows my opinion on this. She ought not to have taken this post.”

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