The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday began a three-day meeting of its national leadership, with new president Nitin Gadkari accusing the government of holding foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan under American pressure.
After urging the government to "rise above vote bank politics to tackle terrorism", Gadkari told some 5,000 delegates of its national executive and national council gathered at the huge tented township Kushabhau Thakre Nagar, 10 km away from Indore city, that New Delhi erred when it decided to talk to Islamabad.
"These talks are being conducted under the pressure of the US," said Gadkari, who succeeded Rajnath Singh to take up the post of presidency in December and formally took charge this month.
"National security is a cause of concern."
Foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet in New Delhi on Feb 25.
The decision has surprised many since India had earlier insisted that it would not talk to Pakistan until Islamabad acted against anti-India terorists on its soil.
Gadkari also told the gathering that the BJP was not weak and unveiled a new agenda that includes Dalit welfare.
Accepting that there were deficiencies and weaknesses in the party that led to its rout in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Gadkari said in his speech at the inaugural of the national executive:
"We need not feel that we are weak. We are ruling in nine states and have more than 100 MPs and 1,000 MLAs."
Promising new energy and renewed vigour to revitalise the party that found itself in the doldrums in the last few months, Gadkari said: "A man is not finished when he is defeated, he is finished when he quits."
With the Feb. 13 Pune bombing casting a shadow, tight security was evident at the venue. Besides commandos and other security personnel, the BJP even deployed traditional wrestlers to guard its leaders.
Prominent BJP leaders attending the meeting included L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley as well as BJP chief ministers from Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.
"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 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 Jr.
Both, the newly appointed president said, fought for the rights of the downtrodden. Ambedkar played an instrumental role in bringing social justice to Dalits, Gadkari said.
Several party leaders who attended the session felt this was an indication that the BJP content to be tagged as a party of middle class urban voters.
Gadkari also instructed party leaders not to unnecessarily go to the media, saying only those authorised to speak to journalists should do so.
Setting an inspirational tone, he called upon party workers and leaders to have big hearts and said they should not demand respect but command it. "Each and every worker of the party should work with big hearts. We should have a united face."
According to him, every worker of the party "should think seriously whether his own political career is more important" than the party or its principles.