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'A Balanced Voice': Who Is Karnataka's New Assembly Speaker UT Khader?

UT Khader is a five-time MLA and former health minister of the Congress.

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A day prior to Karnataka assembly elections, UT Khader told The Quint, "We will defeat the BJP's polarising politics across Karnataka and not just the coastal belt." On 13 May, Khader retained Mangaluru assembly seat, one of the only six the Congress won in Coastal Karnataka, amid the party's resounding win in 135 seats across the state.

While he was expected to be made a Cabinet Minister in Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's government, UT Khader was nominated to be the Speaker of Karnataka Legislative Assembly on 24 May and was elected unanimously.

Who is UT Khader?

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An Ardent Critic of Hindutva, A Balanced Voice in Congress

UT Khader, 53, is the son of veteran Congress leader and former Karnataka Minister UT Fareed. Khader was Karnataka's health minister between 2013 and 2018, when Siddaramaiah was the chief minister of the state.

A five-time MLA, UT Khader is known to be both softspoken and articulate in Karnataka's media circles. As an MLA from Mangaluru, Khader was a vocal critic of the BJP when the saffron party was in power in the state between 2018 and 2022.

In several statements – including those supporting hijab-wearing Muslim women and those against Hindutva outfits capitalising on political murders in the state – Khader had expressed concern over growing communalism in Karnataka during the BJP's term.

A Muslim leader, who belongs the minority Beary linguistic group, Khader had also opposed the BJP's alleged attempt to ban halal meat and entry of Muslim traders in temple festivals.

However, he is also known to be a moderate voice who balances out, sometimes problematically, Congress' own rhetoric. For instance, while he supported hijabi women students at first, Khader delt a blow to their protest by asking them to visit Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to acknowledge India's democratic fabric.

A close associate of KPCC President and Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka DK Shivakumar, Khader did not get a cabinet berth because CM Siddaramaiah favoured his associate BZ Zameer Ahmed Khan over him, it is reported.

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'Khader's Experience Will Pay Off'

Though he did not make it to the Cabinet, Khader has been well accommodated in Karnataka's assembly, it is perceived. He is one among the leaders that both Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar find acceptable, even though the latter is believed to have favoured him more than the former.

In Congress, Khader's legislative experience and party background is well appreciated, making him, as per the Congress, the apt candidate for the position.

According to Congress leaders, UT Khader is well-respected as he had retained the Mangaluru seat in Coastal Karnataka, which is a stronghold of the BJP.

Known as a measured legislator, Khader was asked to take up the position because he could use his legislative and administrative experience to keep the House in order.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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