Congress leader and MLA BZ Zameer Ahmed Khan's remarks about Muslims outnumbering Vokkaligas in Karnataka has stirred a controversy, with it now taking the shape of "community politics".
Vokkaliga leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party hit out at Khan for his remarks by projecting it as an attempt to belittle the politically dominant community, even as Congress leaders tried for damage control while expressing reservations against the comments made.
There are reports that Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji, a prominent Vokkaliga seer, has conveyed his unhappiness to Congress leaders in this regard.
Khan, who is considered to be a close confidant of Congress legislature party leader Siddaramaiah, while reacting to party's state president DK Shivakumar's attempt to consolidate the Vokkaliga community, had recently said that nobody can become the chief minister with support from just one community.
"No one can become CM with support from one community, everyone will have the desire (to become CM), that's not wrong...it is possible only by taking all communities together. I too have a desire to become CM, my community's percentage is more than that of Vokkaligas. Is it possible for me to become CM just with the support of my community? Not possible," Khan said.
Shivakumar, who is a Vokkaliga, had recently called on the community, which forms a major vote-bank in the old Mysuru or southern Karnataka region, to support his chief ministerial bid.
Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah have been engaged in a political one-upmanship for months now, as both are chief ministerial aspirants in the event of the Congress coming to power in the state after the 2023 assembly polls.
Though Siddaramaiah has been maintaining that the party's newly elected legislators and high command will decide on who will be the chief minister, his loyalists including Khan have been openly making statements in favour of their leader, ignoring warnings of disciplinary action, leaving the party virtually divided.
Khan's statement that Muslims outnumber Vokkaligas in the state, while trying to make a case for Siddaramaiah as CM face, has now led to a controversy and has drawn criticism.
Expressing his displeasure over Khan's statement, Congress leader and Vokkaliga leader from Mandya Cheluvarayaswamy said "unnecessary mentioning" about the community was not right.
Noting that Khan's statements regarding the Vokkaliga community have elicited reactions from Swamijis, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, he said, "Was it needed?....demanding that my Muslim community is strong and we also should be given a chance -- is not wrong, but saying we are more than Vokkaligas is unnecessary....it will now be interpreted as the Congress not standing up for Vokkaligas."
Another Congress leader and MLA Priyank Kharge, without taking Khan's name, said that those in responsible positions should see to it that what they speak should not cause damage to community, party and society at large.
"No one should behave in a way that cause damage to the organisation, my goodwill towards someone should not hurt others, there is a party forum like CLP to express your views.... President and seniors will take a call regarding disciplinary action," he said, but defended Shivakumar by stating that he only sought the support of his community.
BJP leaders while criticising Khan also targeted Shivakumar for bringing in community to promote personal ambitions and pointed out that Vokkaligas don't belong to any one party.
Hitting out at the Congress for bringing the community into their internal fighting, senior minister and a prominent Vokkaliga face within the ruling BJP, R Ashoka, said the community will not forgive the grand old party and they should stop such things.
"Settle your issues within, don't bring community, this country runs as per Constitution, where CM is for the whole state and not for a community... They (Congress) are speaking about Vokkaligas. I'm also a Vokkaliga, what rights do they have to speak about Vokkaligas? The community is respected, the community (largely farming) provides food for the society," he said.
"Don't cross the 'Lakshmanrekha' with regards to Vokkaligas. Congress already has an experience, because of the way they dealt with Veerendra Patil (former CM), his community (Lingayats) are not with the party till today," Ashoka reminded.
BJP national general secretary CT Ravi said there was a time when there was a feeling that elections can be won only with the help of Muslim votes, which had led to appeasement politics.
"That time has gone long ago, Zameerbhai (Khan)....threatening and blackmailing in the name of vote bank has gone long ago. Let Zameerbhai remember that one can do politics today by stating 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' and working for the people," he added.