A controversy has erupted over expensive iPhones gifted to MPs from Karnataka by a state Congress Minister, with BJP on Tuesday terming it a “shame on democracy” even as chief minister HD Kumaraswamy pleaded ignorance about the largesse.

As the JDS-Congress coalition government came in the line of fire over the issue, Kumaraswamy said he was not aware of the gift and it was not discussed with him, and his ministerial colleague DK Shivakumar said they were given on his behalf as a “gesture” to the law makers.

The gift was given to 38 Karnataka MPs ahead of a meeting convened by Kumaraswamy in New Delhi to discuss state-related issues, including the Cauvery, to be taken up in the Parliament during the Monsoon Session.

[email protected]_kumaraswamy’s govt has enough money to gift expensive gadgets to MPs but, He can’t waive off loans of farmers. He can’t provide free bus passes to students. He can’t allocate funds for development of coastal & north Karnataka. This govt is a shame on democracy,” Karnataka BJP said in a tweet.

According to media reports, the phones were gifted to 26 Lok Sabha MPs and 12 members of Rajya Sabha. Eighteen MPs of BJP reportedly refused to accept the expensive gifts as they urged the state government to practise genuine austerity.

BJP’s Rajya Sabha member from the state Rajeev Chandrasekhar wrote to Kumaraswamy returning the gift, saying the state should not waste public money when farmers and civic workers were in distress.

“Along with the papers for meeting, your Government has sent an expensive Apple iPhone, which costs more than Rs 1 lakh… it is unacceptable that public money is misspent like this,” he said in the letter.

“My conscience does not permit me to accept this and with due respect to you, I am sending this phone back to you. Instead I urge you to pay the salaries of Pourakarmikas who tirelessly work to keep our city clean and focus on real austerity so that public money can be invested in those in need in our state,” he added.

Chandrasekhar has also tweeted on the same with picture of the phone and along with a picture of a leather bag which was also gifted to the MPs.

Kumaraswamy has, however, said he was not aware of such gifts being given.

According to PTI, he said, “I don’t know who has given…I don’t have any information in this regard. My office has not decided on giving any such gifts, there is no such directions. I don’t know whether it has been given unofficially.”

Water Resources Minister Shivakumar has claimed that he gave the iPhones on his personal behalf adding that he was not giving a bribe and it was only out of a ‘gesture’.

Talking to reporters in Bengaluru, he said, “I’m not giving any bribe….it was only for sharing and feeding of information…it is out of a gesture.”

Claiming that several MPs called and thanked him, Shivakumar said he had given such gifts on an earlier occasion too.

“I don’t want to tell names, but BJP MPs have called me and thanked me….like last time this time also some have taken and some have not,” he added.

(With PTI inputs)