The under fire Samajwadi Party faced another embarrassment as one its ministers was caught on camera man handling and slapping a youth during a blanket distribution ceremony in Varanasi. The incident comes at a time when the SP is under opposition fire for hosting the Saifai Mahotsav in party supremo Mulayam Singh's village even as riot victims reel under poor conditions in relief camps.

Minister of State for Public Works Department and Irrigation Surendra Singh Patel allegedly slapped a boy on the back of his head during a government-sponsored blanket distribution function in Rohania village in Varanasi.

Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Patel, MLA from the Gangapur constituency seat in Varanasi, dismissed the charge saying that the boy, named Ranjeet, was his cousin and he was only patting him to move carry out his work properly at the function.

"Why will I slap anyone? He is my cousin, he was one of those distributing blankets and when I saw him standing idle watching the crowd I patted his head to move on and work. The media has interpreted it to tarnish my image."

Mr. Patel dismissed reports that the boy was one of the recepients of the blankets.

The opposition was not so forgiving with BJP spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak lashing out at the SP for "becoming irritant" as it was not able to handle the queries of the public. Congress spokesperson Dwijendra Tripathi said it was not surprising that the alleged act came from an SP leader but people had no option but to bear such elements.

"On one hand, Mulayam Singh says goondaism will not be tolerated and on the other he gives a free lease to goonda leaders," he said.

Last week, referring to a recent incident in Jaunpur, where state cabinet minister Parasnath Yadav's son Lucky Yadav allegedly misbehaved with some party workers, the SP supremo had warned his ministers and their kinsmen not to indulge in "hooliganism."

"If I hear of incidents of hooliganism, I will sack those involved from the party," he had said.

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