Tamil Nadu minister PK Sekar Babu on Wednesday said that the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will work for North Indian residents in the state even if they did not vote for the party over the years, including in the recently concluded Assembly elections, PTI reported.

Babu, minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, was elected from Harbour seat and was attending an event in his constituency. Babu said the area has a sizable population of Hindi-speaking community and that he had been living there for over 40 years, during which he has seen the growth of North Indians.

“You are economically empowered now because of the Dravidian parties,” the MLA said, according to The Indian Express. “They uplifted your standard of living, not BJP. Under some illusion, you have been continuously supporting that party. Even our parliament member [Dayanidhi Maran] would ask me why I am struggling for you as you don’t vote for us, but I would say they also belong to this land and as a legislative member, it is my duty to be neutral for everyone.”

He added that despite the work done by the DMK through the years, most North Indians did not vote for the party. In the Assembly polls, Babu said his party got just 50 votes in certain areas in comparison with Bharatiya Janata Party which got around 300 to 350 votes.

“When I ask the people here why they ignore our party despite our efforts to uplift their livelihood, they say they voted for us,” he continued. “Earlier we used to register votes through ballot paper, but now we have EVM machines which will show how many votes are recorded in each area. But it is fine, though you ignore us, we won’t ignore you...”

Babu said the MK Stalin-led party had worked for North Indian residents in Tamil Nadu without expecting anything in return, according to PTI. “We, the DMK, are here to work for you,” he added, quoting a Tamil couplet from Thirukkural, a book of aphorisms based on moral codes and ethics written by Thiruvalluvar more than 2,000 years ago.

“We don’t consider you as people from outside,” he said at the event. “We consider you as from our state. We regard you as one among us.”

Controversy erupts

The minister’s remarks have, however, created controversy with BJP leaders accusing him of threatening North Indians who did not vote for the DMK. Reports also claimed Babu was taking a swipe at them and that he was making “obvious snide remarks”.

BJP’s National President of Mahila Morcha and MLA from Coimbatore South Vanathi Srinivasan criticised the comments. “The hatred spewed by Minister Sekar Babu against North Indians are condemnable and disturbing,” she tweeted. “To see elected officials discriminate Indians on the basis of their native roots is against every grain and soul of our constitution. MK Stalin should take immediate action.”

When votes for the Assembly polls were counted on May 2, in a number of rounds, BJP leader Vinoj P Selvam was leading in Harbour constituency. But Selvam eventually finished as runner-up and the saffron party, an ally of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, secured 32,043 votes while Babu got 59,317 votes.

Selvam tweeted that less than 38% of people had voted for Babu in the Assembly elections. “It is unfair to single out any community and threaten them for exercising their right and voting their choice,” he said. “It’s your duty to serve them. We the BJP in Tamil Nadu promise to stand by every citizen against such threats and attacks.”