Narendra Modi set the tone of his campaign by giving a call for change and strong leadership at the Centre while addressing his first rally on Sunday after being anointed the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate.
Addressing the rally of ex-servicemen at Rewari in Haryana, the Gujarat chief minister slammed the UPA government and termed it weak.
"Pakistan is waging a proxy war against us and China is threatening our borders. The problem is not on the border, it is in New Delhi. If the government is strong, neither China nor Pakistan can threaten us. The call for change is coming from this rally ground in Haryana."
The meeting was attended by former army chief VK Singh along with a number of retired senior military officers. Modi also lauded the scientists for successful launch of Agni V.
Saluting the Indian soldiers, Modi said it was his childhood dream to attend an army school which he could not realise due to penury.
"I was not aware that such a huge announcement would be made on September 13. It is God's wish that this is the first rally I am attending after my elevation. It is for the first time that I have stood before so many ex-soldiers and I can say it as thrilling to be among you as being named as the BJP's PM candidate."
Bringing up the Poonch attack at LoC in which five Indian jawans were killed by the Pakistan Army, he slammed defence minister AK Antony for his first statement in Parliament.
"Even as our soldiers were helping the people in Uttarakhand, Pakistan was killing them across the border. However, our defence minister said that they were not Pakistani soldiers but terrorists dressed in Pak uniform. If you don't want to shed tears for our dead, at least don't mock them."
Terming Maoism and terrorism the biggest challenges that India faces today, Modi said, "Pakistan now has a democratic government but it does not seem it wants peace. I want to clearly state that whether it is Pakistan or Bangladesh or India, we need to fight poverty and inequality. Cross-border terrorism is not going to help anyone. Pakistan may have been formed because of anti-India policies but it cannot progress with that attitude."
Hitting out at the parties with secular credentials, Modi said true secularism can be learnt from the Indian Army. "The country is being divided by vote-bank politics. Political leaders can learn secularism from our soldiers who work together for our nation. The Delhi government even tried to divide the army on basis of religion which we will never allow."
Invoking the name of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who also kicked off his PM campaign from Rewari, Modi said Vajpayee forced the world to debate terrorism.
"We need to make our army self-reliant when it comes to making arms and ammunition. We should also make joining army a matter of pride for our youngsters. For that, we need to bring ex-servicemen into the mainstream. I demand a white paper on one-service, one rank."
Modi, who has accused the UPA government of poor governance, said if the country has to be steered out of the present mess, it needs a "strong government" with a person who can lead from the front.
In his 65-minute-long address, Modi made several references to Vajpayee, who was considered a moderate in the BJP, and to the "true secularism" prevailing among Indian Armed Forces.
"The politics of vote banks has become disgusting in our country. Politicians who want to divide the society through vote bank politics, should learn true secularism from our armed forces," he told the rally.
Modi also chose the occasion to attack JD(U), which parted ways with NDA three months ago ending a 17-year-old alliance over his elevation.
"It is the acme of shamelessness when a public representative says that people join Army to die. No leader, no political party would have humiliated (the forces) more than this. "If you cannot recognise the sacrifice of people in armed forces, don't insult the soldiers who are fighting for the security of the country"," he said.
Modi was referring to remarks by a minister in Nitish Kumar government in Bihar for which the JD(U) had pulled up him. The rivalry between Kumar and Modi is well-known.
Lashing out at the policies of the Centre, he said that "every day we are facing problems...Pakistan is not giving up its design...China is showing us its might by intrusion... is keen to stop Brahmaputra rivers water and wants to take control over Arunachal Pardesh."
"...The government that is sitting in Delhi is not at all concerned about them. They feel that such incidents keep taking place," he said.
Noting that today's rally is the "call for change" and that the "land of Haryana has challenged the Delhi Sultanate", he said "when you are standing amid the Army in battlefield, then your ability to lead is seen.
He should have capacity, a war strategy and the yearning to stand in the front, he said.
"It feels good to recall the government of Atali and Advani ji," Modi said the only time he referred the sulking BJP patriarch.
Modi, who was on Friday declared BJP's PM nominee amid Advani sulking, also evoked an imagery of Mahabhrata war and Lord Krishna.
In June, Modi was named BJP's campaign committee chief despite opposition from Advani, who had stayed away from the party executive meet and had also made a reference to a wounded Bhishma Pitamah lying on a bed of arrows in a scene in Mahabharata.
Modi also slammed the UPA for Sachar Committee's bid to seek a community wise census in the Indian armed forces saying it was a "sin" by those in Delhi who were "power hungry" and "believed in vote bank politics".
He also hailed the armed forces for opposing the move.
Flagging the challenges of terrorism and Maoism, which he said had claimed more lives than wars, Modi said that when Vajpayee was heading the NDA government, Pakistan was isolated and the world was forced to take cognisance of terrorism.
"The world stopped listening to Pakistan, but in the last nine years, there is no anger in the world that should be against terrorism," he said.
He said that if Pakistan, Bangladesh and India want to fight war, it must be against poverty and illiteracy.
"I ask Pakistani friends that bombs and pistols are no solution. It did not benefit Pakistan in last 60 years," he said, adding Pakistan will develop if it disallowed breeding of terrorism just for ten years.
Modi also referred to his association with Jat leaders Devilal and Bansi Lal, while referrring to his links with Haryana and recalled that he had addressed his last rally in Rewari with Vajpayee.
Haryana Janhit Congress president Kuldip Bishnoi, son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal, shared the dais with Modi along with former army chief General V K Singh, indicating a new political formulation that the BJP was looking at in the state, which has a sizeable population of Jats.
Rewari also has a fairly good number of ex-service men.
(With inputs from PTI)