Untouchability was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) "political commitment", new president Nitin Gadkari said on Wednesday, indicating a significant shift in strategy for the party by bringing in issues of Dalit welfare.
Including Dalit issues in the party's agenda, Gadkari said in the inaugural session of the BJP's national executive meeting: "The issue of untouchability is a part of our political commitment."
Several party leaders who attended the session were of the view that this was an indication that the BJP was no longer content to be tagged as a party of middle class urban voters.
"We need to expand our base. Dalits are an important constituency and a neglected one too. No national party has taken up their cause in big way on sustained basis. We are going to do that in days to come," a senior BJP leader who attended the inaugural session told IANS.
He said the party was completely opposed to untouchability and emphasised that the focus on Dalit issues was not for electoral gains. In what could be seen as a clear political strategy to woo Dalits, Gadkari compared Dalit icon Bhimrao Ambedkar with Martin Luther King Junior.
Both, he said, fought for the rights of the downtrodden. Ambedkar played an instrumental role in bringing social justice to Dalits, Gadkari added.
"There is a need to rise above the vote bank politics to tackle terrorism in the country," he said, criticising the central government for going ahead with talks with Pakistan. "These talks are being conducted under the pressure of the US."
He added: "National security is a cause of concern."
Prominent BJP leaders who attended the inaugural session at the sprawling tent city of Kushabhau Thackre Nagar, 10 km away from Indore city, included former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, BJP chief ministers from Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh and former party chief Murli Manohar Joshi.