Hyderabad: India will be poorer without its core secular values, MIM's articulate leader Asaduddin Owaisi says, rubbishing charges that he and his party are communal.
"The only thing which unites and keeps India strong is the pluralism and diversity of this great nation," the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) chief told IANS here.
"The ethos of this country are secularism, diversity and pluralism, and that is the thing which strengthens our country and that has to be strengthened come what may," the Lok Sabha member added.
The London-educated Owaisi says it was wrong to call the MIM a Muslim party.
"MIM is a political party which espouses the cause of not only Muslims but also Dalits and other weaker sections. It is not a Muslim party.
"It definitely wants the development of the biggest minority of the land but to brand it a party of a particular religion is completely wrong.
"Who has given them (critics) the right to call me secular or communal or anti-national? These people don't hold intellectual rights over nationalism or secularism.
"India is a free country and I have the right to contest elections. These baseless allegations will not stop my political journey," said Owaisi.
Owaisi justified his decision for his party to contest six of the 243 seats in the ongoing Bihar assembly elections and denied allegations that he was in the field to split the anti-BJP vote.
While acknowledging that the BJP and other rightwing groups were his main foes, Owaisi is not ready to play second fiddle to the so-called secular camp.
"That doesn't mean I play second fiddle to all these political parties and go along blindly and forget about my real development agenda," he said.
The MP fumes at calls for a ban on the MIM.
"Here is a political party doing everything to create more confidence to strengthen Indian democracy. You can disagree with my politics. You have all the right, but don't say don't participate in democracy.
"If you do, what is the message you are sending to people who believe in democracy? What is the path left then?"
The MIM has been expanding outside its traditional base in Hyderabad. It made an impressive debut in the Maharashtra assembly elections last year by winning two seats.
It will also contest two assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh later this year.
"By our sheer participation (in electoral politics) for 57 years, we have strengthened Indian democracy.
"We have voiced our concerns in assemblies, municipalities, panchayats and parliament."
Owaisi countered the argument that parties like the MIM were to blame for Hindu-Muslim divide.
"The so-called secular parties don't have the guts to say that polarization is happening in the majority community, mainly in the upper castes.
"Because it is politically incorrect for secular parties to make such a statement, they (target) Muslims or MIM.
"The mobilization has happened on the other side, not on the Muslim side. That is why they (BJP) won 280 (Lok Sabha) seats. There is nothing like a Muslim vote bank. It's a myth," he said.
Owaisi criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not hitting out at party colleagues making hate speeches.
He also wondered what happened to Modi's assurance to a delegation of Islamic scholars that they could call on him even at midnight.
Referring to the September 28 lynching of a Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that he ate beef, Owaisi wondered why didn't Modi call up the victim's family?
"This is a family whose son is protecting the Indian skies from external enemies," he added, referring to Akhlaq's son who is with the Indian Air Force.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )