Senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan today repudiated charges that his speeches at a number of rallies, after which he was barred from campaigning across Uttar Pradesh by the Election Commission, had communal overtones and asserted that his secular credentials were "beyond doubt".
"My secular credentials are beyond doubt. And by secular credentials I imply my respect and concern for the rights and sentiments of all religions. I was the minister in-charge of the Maha Kumbh congregation held here last year and also the Ardh Kumbh of 2007.
"These events had hogged limelight world over and nobody has ever been able to raise a finger about the quality of the arrangements having been compromised," Khan, who was here on a brief visit, told reporters.
Riled by the ban imposed on him by the EC, Khan said "it appears I have been persecuted for championing the cause of a community which is numerically weaker. What else does explain the poll panel's decision to continue with the ban on me but withdrawal of the same for BJP's Amit Shah. After all, both of us were debarred from electioneering on the same grounds".
Khan also defended the speech wherein he had sought to highlight the participation of Muslim army officials in the Kargil war, saying "those criticising me are trying to suggest that I was causing a rift in the armed forces".
"If that is a sensible argument, then entities like Sikh Regiment, Maratha Regiment and Gurkha Regiment too should be abolished as these acknowledge the presence of ethnic diversity in the Army," he said.
Replying to a query, the SP leader said, "I can bet that the BJP-led NDA will not be able to form the next government at the Centre. All the reports of Muslim votes in UP getting split between us, Congress and BSP are false. Muslims have voted for us en bloc and we are sure to emerge as a major player after the results are out."
"The Third Front, wherein our party will play a pivotal role, will be forming the next government at New Delhi," he added.
Alleging that the EC had extended preferential treatment to BJP's Amit Shah, Khan said, "EC likes Amit Shah. So obviously, it won't like me... This is the truth... EC is not above court. This misunderstanding should be removed..."
"In a democracy, to punish and silence people like us is to send a wrong message to the country that EC has become like CBI...," he said.
"...What wrong am I saying? What is my fault because of which my party was punished?" he asked.
He said the EC's move has encouraged fascist and communal forces to come out, and refereed to the 'support Modi or go to Pakistan' remarks of a BJP leader.