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Belying Modi government’s oft-repeated claims of concern over fake news, officiating Finance Minister and Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal on Wednesday, June 20, used a discredited report to accuse Opposition parties IUML and Congress of using the family of Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula for political gains.

A report claimed that the Dalit scholar’s mother slammed the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) for making “false promises”.

Vemula’s mother Radhika, however, denied she had said so.

Rohith Vemula, a PhD student at Hyderabad University, committed suicide on the campus on January 17, 2016. His suicide triggered a massive row as the opposition parties described it as a case of atrocities against Dalits.

Addressing a press conference, Piyush Goyal said, “I was anxious after reading Rohith Vemula’s mother’s statement. For how long will some opposition parties continue playing politics over it? The family is financially unstable and fake assurance of money was made to a distressed mother for political purposes.”

“Indian Union Muslim League made fake promises to provide them (Rohith Vemula’s family) Rs 20 lakh and asked them to address their rallies and misrepresent the unfortunate incident…,” Piyush Goyal said at a press conference.

“In her statement, Radhika Vemula said IUML made false promises of providing a sum of Rs 20 lakh and asked her to address their rallies and misrepresent the unfortunate incident,” Goyal claimed.

He said she was asked to travel to Kerala and address the rallies for the IUML.

Lashing out at the IUML leaders, the BJP leader said: “According to his mother, the IUML gave them two cheques of Rs 2.5 lakh, out of which one bounced.”

Targeting Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Goyal said, “I received information that even Congress president took Vemula’s family to stages and asked them to make statements. Rahul Gandhi should apologise for doing petty politics.”

Vemula’s mother Radhika, however, denied that the IUML used them for political gains. “It’s true that IUML promised to provide me with money, but they haven’t used me for political gains. It was my wish to speak against PM (Narendra) Modi and if needed I will speak again in any of their meeting,” ANI quoted Radhika saying.

She added that one of the cheques IUML sent her had bounced but the party promised to directly transfer money.  “Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) sent us two cheques of Rs 2.5 lakh out of which one has bounced. We informed them & they said they will directly provide us money so that we can buy a house,” she said, according to a report in The Indian Express.

Goyal claimed there Vemula’s mother is being pressured to retract her statements. “The statements of Rohith Vemula’s mother are all before us, I believe there was an effort made to pressure the mother to retract from what she had said, probably again on the pretext of giving her some money,” he said.

Fake news buster AltNews tore into the BJP narrative. It traced the news source to fake news website Postcard news which it called “a website at the centre of the business of circulating misinformation.”

It said the story was based on a tweet by lawyer Prashant Patel Umrao on June 18 “that Radhika Vemula, mother of Hyderabad University (HoU) student Rohith Vemula who committed suicide in 2016, said she was promised Rs 20 lakh by Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in exchange for speaking against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also claimed that she only received a cheque for Rs 2 lakh that bounced as well.”

Fake news website Postcard news ran a story on similar lines, however, the only source cited for the alleged ‘Rs 20 lakh offered to speak against Modi’ was Patel’s tweet, said AltNews.

Alt News also found what looks like a newspaper clip circulating an iddentical story. “However, we could not trace its origin, suggesting that the clip might have been manufactured to resemble a Hindi daily,” said the AltNews report.

Alt News contacted Radhika Vemula who said that the claims on social media are false and completely baseless.

“Muslim League did not offer me any money to speak against Modi. Any amount of money cannot change what I feel about the current government,” she told AltNews.

In a Facebook post on June 18, Rohith’s brother Raja Vemula claimed that “someone hacked into his Facebook account” to defame his mother by saying that she accepted money from IUML, Kerala to speak against Modi.

On June 16, 2018, an article published in The News Minute quoted Radhika Vemula alleging that IUML went back on its word and used them only for political gains. One of the cheques worth Rs 2.5 lakh offered by the Muslim League bounced, she said. A day after the article was published, according to a report in News18, Radhika Vemula denied any such incident and echoed General Secretary of the Youth Wing of Kerala unit of Muslim League CK Subair’s statement that the cheque bounce was a mistake and it was rejected due to “clerical errors”.

Radhika Vemula’s conflicting statements in the past few days caused a flurry, giving a few the opportunity to spread misinformation. However, she confirmed to Alt News that IUML only offered money toward building a house.

“We were asked to look for land or property and IUML would bear the costs. We checked a few plots and informed the same to them. They sent us two cheques of Rs 2.5 lakh each as token money to hold the plot of land. However, one of the cheques had a spelling error hence, was returned when we went to deposit it in the bank. I first thought that it bounced and felt deceived, however, I was wrong as this was not the case,” said Radhika Vemula.”

AltNews said lawyer Prashant P Umrao shot to fame over the case of the disqualification of AAP MLAs in Delhi. He had in a tweet dated July 28, 2012  attributed a fake quote to senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, in which he had reportedly called for ‘killing a 1000 Hindus’. Sardesai filed a police complaint against Umrao. Subsequently, he took personal digs at the journalist by spreading fake news about his son. AltNews has on numerous occasions called out Umrao’s bluff. In 2017, he had spread fake information that a Swiss couple in U.P was attacked by members of the minority community.

As for Postcard news, AltNews report said it recently shared a fake extract from former President Pranab Mukherjee’s book. “Postcard news founder Mahesh Vikram Hegde was arrested by the Karnataka police in March for spreading fake news. Ironically, a Postcard Editor was invited by Republic TV to debate on the menace of fake news,” said AltNews.

In a damning comment, AltNews said: “Despite their infamous reputation, prominent leaders of the ruling party have not only shared posts by Umrao and Postcard News but also hailed them as crusaders for righteousness… if the likes of Umrao and Postcard News continue receiving encouraging support, disinformation will continue to be propagated as the truth.”

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