All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi on Sunday questioned the Centre on its choice of recipients of the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award.

“Tell me out of the total Bharat Ratna awards given how many were Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim, poor, upper caste and Brahmin?” he said while addressing a rally in Kalyan in Maharashtra’s Thane district, reported ANI. “Babasaheb [Ambedkar] was given Bharat Ratna, but out of compulsion and not by heart,” he said.

Owaisi said Ambedkar deserved Bharat Ratna because he was the architect of the Constitution, reported PTI. Ambedkar was posthumously conferred the Bharat Ratna in 1990.

The Centre on Friday conferred former President Pranab Mukherjee, Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh and singer and musician Bhupen Hazarika, the Bharat Ratna.

Telangana’s ruling party Telangana Rashtra Samithi backed Owaisi’s statement. The party’s spokesperson said Abid Rasool Khan said the Bharat Ratna was above the divides of caste and religion, reported India Today. “Owaisi has raised a pertinent question regarding discrimination against the underprivileged communities,” he said while urging authorities to look into whether anybody deserving from these communities were kept aside.

Khan said Owaisi’s statement should not be taken as a “communal one”.

Owaisi urged Dalits, Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis to join hands and reject national parties in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. He said it was time for the deprived to hit back rather than continue suffering.

Owaisi targetted the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, claiming that the two parties were elected on the votes of “deprived” classes, but they had meted injustice to them.

The Hyderabad MP said the country needed a pehredar (guard) rather than a chowkidar (watchman), in a purported reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who often describes himself as a chowkidar. Owaisi criticised Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, calling him a “janeudhari” (one who wears the sacred thread).