Congress leader Siddaramaiah on Sunday said that consumption of halal meat was being turned into a larger controversy by Hindutva groups in Karnataka to divide the society, The Indian Express reported.

The former chief minister made the remarks while addressing a joint press conference with state Congress president DK Shivakumar on the policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“Unnecessarily they [Hindutva groups] are raising issues that affect relationships and ties between people and communities,” Siddaramaiah said, according to The Indian Express. “These are not issues that are relevant to people or the lives of people. They are raising these issues and disturbing the peace in society.”

Several Hindutva organisations in Karnataka had carried out campaigns to boycott halal meat, ahead of “varshadodaku” the day after the Kannada New Year festival of Ugadi when many communities have a non-vegetarian feast.

“Halal” is the Arabic word for “permissible”. Halal meat, which is sanctified by Islamic law, involves killing an animal by cutting the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe.

On March 29, BJP National General Secretary CT Ravi had called halal food “economic jihad”. He had claimed that Muslims refuse to buy meat from Hindu butchers on the grounds that it is not halal meat and asked why Hindus should buy meat from them.

On April 1, seven members of the Bajrang Dal were arrested in connection with two incidents of assault over the selling of halal meat in Bhadravathi town.

During Sunday’s press conference, Siddaramaiah said that the practice of consuming halal meat has been in existence for centuries.

“It is their [Muslims] practice, let them do it, what is your [Hindus] practice you do it,” he said. “Do we not cut goats during temple festivals? The blood is strewn around. For regular festivals we kill goats. They believe meat with blood is not good for health. It is their belief, let them do it.”

Siddaramaiah added that the BJP and its affiliates were disturbing the peace in Karnataka and warned this would have a ripple effect on the state’s economy.

The remarks by the former chief minister came after several senior leaders, including Siddaramaiah and Mallikarjun Kharge, had said that the Congress was not being vocal on concerns raised by minorities, backward classes and Dalits, according to The Indian Express.