Badruddin Ajmal, the leader of the All India United Democratic Front, on Thursday urged President Ram Nath Kovind to “take note” of Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s remarks about his party. He accused Rawat of “indulging in politics” against his mandate.

While talking about migrants from Bangladesh coming to North East India on Wednesday, Rawat had said the Assam-based party had “grown faster” than the Bharatiya Janata Party did over the years. The party, which Ajmal launched in 2005, has been gaining ground in Assam’s Muslim-dominated constituencies and now has three MPs in the Lok Sabha and 13 MLAs in the Assam Assembly.

Reacting to the remark on Twitter, Ajmal called it a “political statement” and said it was “shocking”. “Why is it a concern for the Army chief that a political party, based on democratic and secular values, is rising faster than the BJP?” he wrote. “Alternative parties like the AIUDF and AAP [Aam Aadmi Party] have grown because of the misgovernance of big parties.”

Addressing a press conference on Thursday evening, Ajmal repeated that the Army chief’s statements were political in nature, ANI reported. “People say we are a Muslim party, but this is false,” said Ajmal adding, “We have always given 20 to 25 seats to our Hindu brothers in all elections.” He said “Muslim brothers” had fought for the freedom struggle. “We are Indians. Let us live with the dignity of being an Indian.”

Meanwhile, Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi, too, said Rawat should not interfere in political matters, as it was not his task to comment on the rise of political parties.

“Democracy and Constitution allows it [rise of political parties], and the Army will always work under an elected civilian leadership,” Owaisi wrote on Twitter.

Owaisi is the president of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen.

AIUDF legislator Aminul Islam also said the party had grown because it “is working for the downtrodden”. “We are hopeful that people of Assam irrespective of caste and creed, will accept AIUDF, and our party will come to power soon,” he told ANI.

Earlier, the Army clarified Rawat’s remarks and said there was “nothing political or religious” in the chief’s speech. “The Army chief just mentioned amalgamation and development in the seminar,” the Army said, according to ANI.

Speaking at a conference on North East India on Wednesday, Rawat had said: “I do not think you can now change the population dynamics of the area. If it was five [Muslim-majority] districts [earlier] to eight to nine [today], inversion has taken place...There is a party called AIUDF, they have grown in a faster timeframe than the BJP grew over the years. Jan Sangh [the BJP’s predecessor] had two MPs [in its first few years] and...where they have reached. AIUDF is growing at a faster pace in the state of Assam.”