Karnataka: In picking UT Khader as Speaker, Congress sends a strong message of inclusiveness

Khader never limited himself to the position of minority affairs minister like other Muslim leaders in any state government; he became a state-level leader cutting across community lines

Karnataka Speaker UT Khader
Khader has successfully built a “secular” image in the Mangaluru constituency, where he is loved by Hindus also | Pic: Facebook

UT Khader is set to make history by becoming the first Muslim Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly. It is apparently the Congress’s way of showing gratitude to the community that supported the party in large numbers in the recent state election. The party also has nine MLAs from the community this time.

Political experts say this is a strategic move by the Congress. The Speaker’s is a respectable position — that of the Constitutional head in the state Assembly — who makes all legislators, including the chief minister and the Opposition leader, abide by the rulings.

The 53-year-old Khader, who emerged from Congress’s student wing NSUI to become four-time MLA from the coastal region of Mangaluru, was chosen as the Speaker-designate after senior leaders like RV Deshpande and TB Jayachandra refused the offer. They are reportedly more interested in taking charge as ministers.

Also read: Cong’s U T Khader files nomination for Karnataka Assembly Speaker post


Siddaramaiah’s master stroke

Khader is known to be a close aide of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s. However, when the 10-member council of ministers took oath on May 20, it was Zameer Khan who found a place under the Muslim quota. But Siddaramaiah’s master stroke came on Monday (May 22) when he suggested Khader’s name for the Speaker’s post in the meeting held with AICC General Secretary Randeep Surjewala, Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, and other senior leaders at his residence.

Nobody had any objection to the suggestion. AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge was also reportedly happy to have Khader take up the post.

The next step was calling up Khader and convincing him to accept the post. Khader, who was apparently hoping to become a minister in the Siddaramaiah Cabinet, was reportedly surprised with the offer. Sources said he was worried about handling such a big position, but the leaders convinced him of his capabilities.

Also read: Karnataka minister says Siddaramaiah will be CM for 5 years; DK Shivakumar replies

Congress focus on social justice

The Congress government’s focus this time is on social justice by including all communities and castes in forming the government. Much importance is being given to AHINDA (minorities, backward classes, and Dalits), who are the base of the Congress vote bank.

Siddaramaiah himself is a backward class leader; DKS is from the Vokkaliga community; MB Patil is from the Lingayats; Zameer Ahmed represents Muslims and KJ George the Christians; DR G Parameshwara, Priyank Kharge, and V Muniyappa are from the Dalit community; Satish Jarkiholi represents Scheduled Tribes. Now, giving the Speaker’s post to Khader will nicely balance the social justice factor.

“If Khader is given a ministerial berth, he has to become the minister in charge of the coastal district, which will not help the Congress. The coastal district is communally sensitive. BK Hariprasad is being considered for the minister’s post under the Billawa (Eediga) community quota. He can become the minister in charge of that district, which has the highest population of Billawas,” a senior Congress leader explained.

Also read: Karnataka: Siddaramaiah govt set to shelve controversial textbook revisions

Who is UT Khader?

UT Abdul Khader is the son of UT Fareed, who was a four-time MLA from Ullal constituency in the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada in 1972, 1978, 1999 and 2004. After the delimitation of the constituencies, the Mangaluru constituency emerged by adding some parts of the Vitla and Ullal constituencies. Khader became the MLA from Ullal in the by-election after his father’s death. Since 2008, he has been continuously winning from Mangaluru and is a five-time MLA from the district.

Khader was born in 1969. He completed his BA and LLB courses from St Aloysius College and SDM Law College, Mangaluru, respectively. He is interested in bike and car races and has even participated in state- and national-level moto race championships. He was also interested in sports and used to play cricket, football, volleyball, hockey, tennis, and other sports.

He started with student politics and served as the NSUI district general secretary in 1990, NSUI district president from 1994 to 1999, and the NSUI state vice-president from 1999 to 2001.

He participated in the National-Level Seva Dal Training Camp held at Ghataprabha in 2003, at Kandaghat, Himachal Pradesh, in 2004, and was selected as the Additional Chief Adviser of the Seva Dal in 2005.

Later, as a Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee member, he was elected as its secretary in 2008. He also won Sadan Veer and Shining India Awards for best performance in the Legislative Assembly from 2008 to 2013.

Also read: First session of 16th Karnataka assembly begins, newly-elected MLAs take oath

Bigger goals

As Khader grew in politics, he did not limit himself to the position of minority affairs minister like other Muslim leaders in any state government. He went on to become the Minister of Health, of Food and Civil Supplies, and of Urban Development and Housing, and became a state-level leader cutting across community lines.

He was the only Congress MLA in the coastal region (comprising Dakshina Kannada and Udupi) in 2018. This time, he and Ashok Rai (Putturu) are representing the party in the region.

As the Health Minister in the 2013-2016 Siddaramaiah government, he implemented widely hailed projects such as gutka ban, bike ambulance, health emergency number 108, Aarogyasri, Danta Bhagya, and dialysis units in government taluk hospitals to win the Centre’s Best Health Minister award.

As the Food Minister from 2016 to 2018, he cut down the 10 to 13 documents that the poor had to submit for the ration card and launched a revolutionary project to deliver the ration card to the doorstep. All one has to do is apply through the Aadhaar card. He helped many to get ration cards.

In the coalition government of 2018, he took office as the Minister of Urban Development and Housing and introduced many projects, including Mangalore Smart City. In 2021, he was elected as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Siddaramaiah was the Opposition leader) in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and served till 2023.

Also read: Karnataka: Congress forms an inclusive Cabinet, focus on community diversity

A secular face

Another interesting fact about Khader is that he participates in several Hindu festivals and performs poojas at various temples in his constituency. Sometimes, he avoids non-veg food and fasts to participate in Hindu rituals, such as Naga Mandala. Thus, he has successfully built a “secular” image in the Mangaluru constituency, where he is loved by Hindus also.

He raised his voice when there was an attack on Muslims, but his stand on the hijab issue was appreciated by Hindu leaders too. He advised that the female Muslim students of Mangalore University College should take the legal route instead of protesting. He also asked them to visit Islamic countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to appreciate the culture of Indian democracy.

His mother tongue is Byari, which is largely spoken by Muslims in Dakshina Kannada. It is a mix of Tulu and Malayalam languages. He also speaks Tulu, Kannada, English, and Hindi.