A fresh controversy erupted on Saturday when Samajwadi Party leader and alleged mafia don-turned politician Atiq Ahmed said the people living in relief camps in riot-affected Muzaffarnagar were “professional beggars.”

Mr. Ahmed said: “In every society, every class, you have peshewar mangne wale [professional beggars]. Everybody knows that some of these beggars entered the [relief] camps,” he said.

“No doubt there were riots, but the Army was called in immediately, compensation of Rs.15 lakh was given, jobs were provided. Some people tried to make an issue out of it and are still trying to,” he said.

His comments drew sharp criticism from the BJP.

The SP recently faced flak for the miserable living conditions in the relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts even as it held the annual Saifai Mahotsav in party supremo Mulayam Singh’s ancestral village, Etawah.

Mr. Ahmed, who has several criminal cases against him, including murder, was expelled from the party in 2008 and re-inducted recently.

He was declared the party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Sultanpur but has been shifted to Shravasti.