First ever Muslim Speaker in Karnataka Legislative Assembly

Five-time MLA UT Khader from the Mangaluru constituency will file take charge of the House on Wednesday

Senior Congress MLA UT Khader (Photo courtesy: Screengrab from VIJAYAVANI)
Senior Congress MLA UT Khader (Photo courtesy: Screengrab from VIJAYAVANI)

Naheed Ataulla

Late on Monday night, the Indian National Congress's high command decided to give the Speaker's post in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly to senior Congress MLA UT Khader, representing the Mangaluru constituency in Dakshina Kannada district. Khader will be the first Muslim Speaker in the Karnataka Assembly when he takes his oath.

The 53-year-old Khader is serving in the Assembly for the fifth time and has been a member of the house since 2008, representing Mangaluru constituency, earlier called Ullal. He was the deputy leader of the Opposition in the  previous Assembly and has served in the cabinets of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in 2013 and the short-lived Janata Dal (Secular)–Congress government in 2018.

Khader will be filing his nomination papers on Tuesday and should be elected unopposed, as the BJP with 65 MLAs and the JD(S) with its 19 members are not  going to  field any candidates. The three-day legislature session for the  newly elected MLAs to take their oaths commenced on Monday, and Khader will take charge on Wednesday.

Speaking to the National Herald, Khader—who was only hoping to be inducted into the cabinet—said it came as a "surprise" to him. He said,  "One can become a minister anytime, but getting the Speaker's post is rare. I will take it as a challenge and discharge my duty in the House with faith and love,'' he added.

Muslims constitute 12.9 per cent of Karnataka's 6.5 crore population. The new Assembly has nine Muslim MLAs and all have been elected from the Congress party. The party had given tickets to 15 Muslim candidates, of whom 9 won, while the JD(S)'s 23 Muslim candidates drew a blank.

In the previous Assembly, there were 7 Muslim members, all from the Congress party and in 2013 there were 11 — 9 from the Congress and 2  from the JD(S). The highest representation of Muslims was in 1978, with 16 MLAs, when D Devaraj Urs was the chief minister, and the lowest, just 2, was during former chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde's tenure in 1983.

The  nomination of Khader to the Speaker's post was not a surprise to him alone— the names of former ministers HK Patil and TB Jayachandra were doing the rounds.

It is estimated that 80 per cent of the total Muslim voters opted for the Congress. The game changers for the Congress—which cut significantly into the JD(S)'s vote share—are said to be the party's promise to restore the 4 per cent reservation for the Muslim community, which was scrapped by the previous BJP-ruled government, and the announcement that organisations such as the Bajrang Dal and the Popular Front of India would be banned if they indulged in divisive activities. 

Khader's elevation to the highest post in the Legislative Assembly should be a morale booster for the local Congress cadre as the party fared poorly in the coastal region, though it trounced the BJP to an unexpected degree in the districts of Shivamogga and Kodagu. Of the 19 total seats in the three districts of Dakshina Kannada (8 seats), Udupi (5) and Uttara Kannada (6), the Congress won just 6. The BJP won all the 5 seats in the Udupi district, while the Congress got 4 in Uttara Kannada and 2 in Dakshina Kannada.

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