File picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi participating in yoga in Delhi. Credit: PTI

File picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi participating in yoga in Delhi. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: In the eye of a storm over his RTI-based story on the government allegedly discriminating against Muslims in selecting them as Yoga teachers for International Yoga Day last year – AYUSH minister Sripad Naik has termed the claim false and defamatory –  journalist Pushp Sharma has hit back, stating that he has all the relevant government RTI replies as well as the envelopes in which they were sent to prove their  authenticity.

A day after Sharma wrote a story in the Milli Gazette about how he learnt through an RTI reply in October 2015 that the government was not inviting, selecting or sending abroad Muslims to serve as trainers/teachers during International Yoga Day 2015, the BJP government has accused him of running a smear campaign.

AYUSH Minister Naik, to whom The Wire had also sent a query last night on the issue, was quoted by news channel ANI as saying the story was “totally false”. Condemning it, he had said, “It’s an attempt to defame us, I will order a probe into this.”

On his part, Pushp Sharma told The Wire that none of the documents he had quoted from to back his claim that the government did not appoint Muslims as Yoga trainers or teachers  as a matter of policy were fabricated. “Due to lack of staff, we could not upload all the documents on the Milli Gazettewebsite yesterday. But late this evening we have uploaded all 40 of them and these establish the truth.”

The investigative journalist said it was “wrong” of Naik to say that the story was false and was an attempt to defame the government. “I have been getting information on AYUSH since it was formed and before that since 2010, when the UPA government was there. I had made several discoveries through my RTI applications filed with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which handled these departments. So it is wrong to believe that I am going after any particular government.”

As for the facts of the matter, he said the documents uploaded on the Milli Gazette site clearly showed  a brown envelope in which he had received four papers in October 2015. “One of them is a letter from the ministry, another is Annexure I and then there are two computer generated printouts with details which are usually never sent to RTI applicants. It is quite obvious that since the ministry is new and so is the staff, someone has inadvertently passed on to me not only the two computer generated papers but also the annexure.”

On its part, Milli Gazette too is standing by its story.

Claiming that he has several years of experience as an investigative journalist, Sharma said he had learnt of discrimination in the appointments and filed several RTI applications. “There were almost 50 questions in these applications but only two which sought to extract information on which the story was based.” He said once the information he quoted came out, most probably because of a “clerical error” in the ministry – which has nearly 250 daily wagers working for it – the government has “gone into denial mode.”

As for the minister’s allegation that the document he had cited was a “fabrication” and and his threat that he would “take action”, Sharma said he had earlier also exposed a case involving Baba Ramdev after which the Central Bureau of Investigation had got after him. “I am not going to get cowed down like this. They cannot prove me wrong,” he said.

“The ministry itself sends papers and then targets the journalist” for publicising them, Sharma said. “This is just a case of shooting the messenger.”