On Saturday, the minister for Skill Development said at a function that the government will help the aspirants and added, "We cannot be bogged down by some street dogs staging protests". The remark was seen as a reference to a group of activists, said to be Dalits, who blocked his vehicle and raised slogans while he was on his way to the venue of the function in Karnataka's Ballari, over 300 km from Bengaluru.
"It is misinterpreted that my statement is against Dalits," the minister told NDTV today. "In general I have given my statement regarding intellectuals... the Congress deliberately is trying to damage my image," added the minister, who recently had to apologise in parliament for his "amend the Constitution" remark.
Actor-columnist Prakash Raj -- one of the sharpest and most vocal critics of the opposition BJP in Karnataka -- accused the minister of likening Dalit protesters to dogs. A tweet from him read:
Enough is enough..Serial offender...minister Ananthkumar Hegde at it again....he calls Dalits DOGs ..for protesting against his controversial constitution remark... supreme leaders of #bjp will you ask him to step down ...or do you endorse his abuse #justasking- Prakash Raj (@prakashraaj) January 20, 2018
The 49-year-old minister triggered controversy last month by saying his party, the ruling BJP, will "soon change the Constitution," which mentions the word "secular".
The BJP distanced itself from the comment, saying "was not on the same page with Hedge". The Congress had asked for his resignation. If a person doesn't believe in the Constitution, "he has no right" to be a member of parliament, said senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Mr Raj had questioned the absence of any action against the minister. In his open letter, the actor said secularism is about "respecting and accepting diverse religions".
A five-time Lok Sabha member from Uttara Kannada, Mr Hegde was inducted into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet in August as part of the BJP's strategy to wrest Karnataka from the Congress in the upcoming elections.