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Meet Zameer Ahmed Khan, the man who helped HD Kumaraswamy pull off (and survive) coups

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Zameer Ahmed Khan is a former JD(S) leader who is now in the Congress.

Bengaluru: It was a moment of Bollywood-esque drama when Zameer Ahmed Khan, the MLA from Chamrajpet in Karnataka, broke ranks with the Janata Dal (Secular) in 2016.

Eleven years before that, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the JD(S) chief, had himself spearheaded a door-to-door campaign for Khan during the 2005 bypoll for the constituency, pitching him as the party’s rising star.

Come election season 2018, Khan, a fresh entrant in the Congress, was exhorting voters to give him a sixth term, saying he would behead himself if the JD(S) candidate was chosen.

But enmity, like friendship, can be fickle in politics. And less than a year after his ‘beheading’ threat, Khan is being celebrated for helping old friend H.D. Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda’s son and leader of Karnataka’s Congress-JD(S) government, survive an alleged coup bid.

Khan, the incumbent food and civil supplies minister in the Kumaraswamy government, is an influential leader of the state.

A frequent troubleshooter for his “Kumar anna”, he has established himself as a powerbroker given to emotional outbursts.

Meet Zameer Ahmed Khan

Born in Kunigal, Tumkur, Khan, who is in his early 50s, is a businessman by profession, a partner in a transportation company called National Travels. He has won four consecutive terms from Chamarajpet.

A public function organised in Bengaluru by his supporters for his 50th birthday had in attendance Bollywood biggies such as Sanjay Dutt, Shakti Kapoor and Jackie Shroff.
Viral videos from the event showed Dutt and Shroff wish a beaming Khan on his milestone birthday.


Also read: What BJP gains or loses in Karnataka horse-trading race


Split from JD(S)

Khan’s rift with the JD(S) was said to be rooted in resentment at being sidelined in the party. In 2016, Khan rallied six MLAs to cross-vote during the 2016 Rajya Sabha election, an act that got the seven suspended from the party.

By 2018, Khan, also a close associate of Congress leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah, and the six others had cosied up to the Congress and joined the grand old party.

In the assembly election that year, the senior Gowda launched a special campaign in Chamrajpet for Altaf Khan to ensure his protege lost, but Khan still won a comfortable victory.

Despite the spat, however, Khan has always claimed that, deep in his heart, he will always be a Deve Gowda-Kumaraswamy loyalist.

No wonder then that when trouble struck the JD(S)-Congress government this month, as a few MLAs allegedly rebelled amid a suspected coup attempt engineered by the BJP, Khan and Kumaraswamy buried the hatchet and got down to resolving the conflict.

Khan convinced three of the MLAs allegedly holed up at a Mumbai resort –Hagaribommanahalli MLA Bheema Naik, Yellapur MLA Shivaram Hebbar and Maski MLA Pratap Gouda Patil — to return to the Congress fold.


Also read: 2 independent MLAs withdraw support from Kumaraswamy govt in Karnataka


Kumaraswamy’s partner in crime

Khan has been Kumaraswamy’s partner-in-crime through several twists and turns in Karnataka politics.

In 2006, he helped Kumaraswamy pull off a coup against the Congress-JD(S) government led by Dharam Singh, and tie up with the BJP to form another government, in violation of Deve Gowda’s wishes.

“When the legislators who wanted to ally with Kumaraswamy were ready, Zameer Khan himself drove the bus with the rebel MLAs and took them to a resort in Goa,” said a close friend of Khan. “It ensured that Kumaraswamy had the numbers.”

Two years later, in 2008, the BJP took office for its first term in Karnataka, seeking the support of five Independent MLAs to secure a majority in the 224-member assembly.

However, nearly two years into the term, the five Independents and several BJP MLAs began to get disgruntled with then chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and declared rebellion. After Kumaraswamy helped shift these legislators to a resort in Goa, Yeddyurappa sent the then tourism minister Janardhan Reddy to convince the legislators to return. But Kumaraswamy and Khan beat them to it.

The duo arranged for their transfer to Chennai and, yet again, Khan was at the wheel of one of the several high-end cars arranged to take the legislators to the Goa airport. However, this attempted coup failed after the rebels pledged their support to Yeddyurappa again. This came after the BJP had secured the support of five opposition MLAs as part of their ‘Operation Kamal’.

Controversies 

Khan has found himself at the centre of other controversies too.

During the days of the JD(S)-BJP coalition, when Kumaraswamy was the chief minister, Khan briefly resigned as minister after the former did not attend his Eid celebration. Khan had called the refusal an insult to his community, but the duo later patched up.

He also earned the BJP’s ire for suggesting, during the Tipu Jayanti controversy, that the state Haj House should be renamed after the former Mysore ruler.

Last September, a viral video of the minister showed him triple-riding a motorcycle, without a helmet, at a public rally in Tumkur. The video was widely condemned on social media, triggering calls for Khan to apologise.

However, the former state Haj minister is also known for his benevolence. In October 2018, the minister was so impressed by a pomfret preparation at a Mangaluru restaurant that he tipped chef Haneef Mohammed Rs 25,000 and offered to pay for his Umrah (Mecca pilgrimage).

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