'How can you say this is a test of my loyalty? I feel comfortable saying "Jai Hind." I feel comfortable saying "Hindustan Zindabad".'
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi took on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat when he said he would refuse to say 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' even at 'knife-point.'
Addressing RSS leaders at a conclave on March 3, Bhagwat said the new generation needed to be taught to chant slogans hailing mother India, comments which came against the backdrop of the row over alleged anti-India sloganeering on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus.
Owaisi's statements have drawn sharp criticism across political lines, including from poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar who remarked in his farewell address in the Rajya Sabha: Owaisi 'will not say 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' as the Constitution does not require him to say so. But the same Constitution does not ask him to wear the sherwani either.'
Owaisi spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com about the controversy.
You are okay with saying 'Hindustan Zindabad' and 'Jai Hind,' why won't you say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'?
Is there a test of nationalism for me?
Am I a loyalist only if I say 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' There is no test of nationalism.
Over and above that, India is a Republic. Even Constitutional duties do not say that I have to raise this slogan.
And where is my freedom of expression? Why are you forcing me to say something which I don't want to say?
What is the problem with 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'?
The moot point is: That I will not say it, does that make me anti-national?
The most popular slogans are 'Jai Hind' and 'Hindustan Zindabad.' What is wrong in that?
To people who are objecting to my remarks and questioning my loyalty, my counter question to them is: Why don't you say 'Jai Hind'? What is wrong with 'Jai Hind'?
But 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' is a very popular slogan....
Am I saying you don't say it? I have no issues with it, but you cannot force me to say what you want to say.
Where is the freedom of expression? It is my Fundamental Right.
Don't you think this makes you appear to be anti-national?
How? You are wrong. How is this anti-national, please tell me. Which section of the Indian Penal Code says so?
I am not a practising lawyer, but I know little bit about the law. Please tell me which section applies here.
Javed Akhtar said in the Rajya Sabha, in this context, that the Constitution doesn't say you must wear a sherwani and topi either
He has got his facts completely wrong. I am talking about the Constitution and freedom of expression.
I am talking about things like India is a Republic.
I am saying, I will say 'Jai Hind.' But he (Javed Akhtar) goes on to my clothes. That itself shows the fallacy of his argument.
Just because you cannot counter my argument, you make fun of my beard, topi and sherwani.
I am fine with what he said, but my argument is, is it mentioned in the Constitution?
Is it part of my fundamental duty? Is it a test of my loyalty or nationalism? No.
How can you say this is a test of my loyalty? I feel comfortable saying 'Jai Hind.' I feel comfortable saying 'Hindustan Zindabad.'
Why are you questioning it? And how come the RSS will decide what I eat or wear?
It is because the RSS wants 'uniformity in diversity' rather than 'unity in diversity'?
Yes, because the RSS believes in one language, one culture and one religion.
You don't want to say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' because it refers to India as a goddess?
People talk about the rights of a horse which was brutally assaulted in Uttarakhand. Here I am talking about my Fundamental Rights.
I will never say what the RSS wants me to say. Believe me, I am a prouder Indian than anyone else.
Your legislator, Waris Pathan, was suspended from the Maharashtra assembly for refusing to say 'Bharat Mata ki Jai.'
It is very unfortunate. One can get suspended for uttering unparliamentary words or for unparliamentary behaviour, but here you want to force (us to say something).
'You have to say this (Bharat Mata ki Jai) or else we will take action.' And this was supported by the Congress and the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party).
Outside the assembly they say they will not allow the Hindutva agenda, but inside the assembly they support them (the BJP).
Is there a possibility this issue will unnecessarily rake up communal tensions?
Are you telling me that the Gujarat riots happened because someone did not say that (Bharat Mata ki Jai)?
Are you telling that the Muzzafarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh, in which 50,000 Muslims were affected, happened because they did not say that slogan?
We have a long history of communal riots in India.
The fundamental problem is that you make nationalism a Hindutva issue and show that 'Look here, they are not saying this (Bharat Mata Ki Jai).'
This is my Fundamental Right. I am happy saying 'Jai Hind.'
The difference is, I am not saying 'my way or the highway.' I am saying pluralism and diversity must be reflected in our democracy.