"Stop the internal bickering and change with the times," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak Sunday told the leadership of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) - the largest party of ethnic Indians in the country.
"Do not fight and destroy MIC, that's my plea to you," he told the 3,000 delegates and observers at the 64th MIC annual general meeting.
MIC is a constituent of Barisan Nasional - the ruling coalition, of which Najib is the chief.
His warning came as he prepares the alliance for the next general election in March 2013, amidst speculation that he could advance the date.
Besides the MIC, there are other parties, some of them MIC's breakaways, with significant support base among the 1.7 million Indian community.
The prime minister utilised the occasion to urge them to rise above the politicking of their top leadership and serve the Indian community.
He said that as a small community of only 7.9 percent, the Indians could not afford to be further divided.
"There are 3,000 MIC branches. Ask yourselves what the Indian community wants, how do I become a more effective leader? Internal politics can only destroy MIC," Najib said in his opening speech.
He said the MIC "should not let its leadership problems sap its energy to serve the Indian community".
MIC's chief for the last three decades, S. Samy Vellu, who has agreed to step down in October next year prior to the election, said although his decisions were disliked, he did "what was right for the MIC and for the Indian community".
Vellu is under pressure to quit office earlier.
Vellu criticised "some non-government organisations (NGOs) trying to speak for the Indian community".
Najib urged the MIC to work with the NGOs. "Don't exclude them. If I can work with them, why can't MIC work with them?" he asked.
But for all of its achievements, Najib said, the MIC had to change along with the other Barisan component parties, including United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), to succeed in the next general election.
"The shortcomings must be rectified. I believe MIC can still deliver if it changes with the times. It must be a modern and progressive party. UMNO is changing, you must also change," he said.
Najib also spoke about the touchy subject of selecting Indian leaders according to their castes. "Maybe you should not be too carried away by the caste system when it comes to politics," he said.
Also present at the event were chiefs of other major constituents of the Barisan Nasional: Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) president Chua Soi Lek, Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon and UMNO secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor.
Najib belongs to UMNO, the party of the Malays, the majority community of the multi-ethnic Malaysia.
All Barisan Nasional constituents fared badly in March 2008 election, losing the traditional two-thirds parliamentary support and control of five of the 13 states.