On December 27, Lucknow resident Devendra Tiwari announced on social media that he had received an email from a man named Zuber Khan, who had threatened to blow up the Ram temple being constructed in Ayodhya.

In the email – a screenshot of which Tiwari posted on the social media platform X – Khan also threatened to kill Tiwari, along with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and Additional Director General of Police Amitabh Yash.

Khan signed off by saying that the ISI – presumably a reference to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence – would take full responsibility for these actions.

Last November, Tiwari had claimed to have received a similar threatening email from a man named Alam Ansari Khan.

On Wednesday, the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh Police made a breakthrough in the case. It arrested the two men who had sent the emails. Neither of them was named Khan. The arrested men, Tahar Singh and Om Prakash Mishra lived in Uttar Pradesh, in Gonda district, 117 kms from Lucknow.

But the case isn’t just an addition to the recent trend of Hindus impersonating Muslim identities to commit crimes.

According to the police, Tiwari himself asked Singh and Mishra to send the emails under false identities. The police are yet to nab Tiwari, who is absconding, an official at the Special Task Force told Scroll.

What prompted Tiwari and the other men to stage this fraud?

Clues lie in their social media activity. The three men appear to be straining hard to establish their Hindutva credentials by posing with Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, championing causes like cow protection, rallying against Muslims. Until they were busted, the strategy seemed to have paid off: Tiwari earned himself the badge of police protection.

How the fake emails were sent

Tiwari’s social media profiles describe him as the national president of the Bharatiya Kisan Manch. According to NGO Darpan, the Indian government’s directory of non-governmental organisations, he is also the president of the Lucknow-based Bhartiya Gau Seva Parishad Charitable Trust, along with Parul Bhargava.

In January 2022, the Bharatiya Kisan Manch appointed Tahar Singh, who identifies on social media as Arijit Singh Visen, as its the functionary in charge of social media in the state. Mishra, the police release said, was Tiwari’s personal secretary.

At Tiwari’s behest, Singh created fake email IDs with Muslim names – alamansarikhan608@gmail.com and zubairkhanisi199@gmail.com – and shared their credentials with Mishra, who then sent the fake threats, the police press release stated.

“After the emails were sent, the two mobile phones were burnt and destroyed by Tiwari,” said the police statement. “The WiFi used for sending the emails was traced back to Tiwari’s office.”

On social media, Tiwari first claimed to have received death threats from Muslims addressed to him and Adityanath in December 2021. Since then, he had made similar claims in July, September, October and November last year.

On November 19, the Lucknow Police even filed a first information report based on Tiwari’s claim that he had received a death threat mail via email on November 19, sent by a person identifying as Alam Ansari Khan, the police said on Wednesday.

The Special Task Force alleged that Tiwari orchestrated these threats so that “his security would be increased and he would make big political gains”.

If that is what Tiwari was aiming for, he certainly achieved his goals.

For more than two years now, a police official had been assigned to Tiwari for the alleged threats he received, SS Mahadevan, the station house officer at Lucknow’s Alambagh police station told Scroll. Tiwari’s political heft can be gauged from his social media activity, which shows him in the company of BJP leaders in UP, including Chief Minister Adityanath. Tahar Singh, too, is not far behind.

BJP links of the accused

The social media activity of Tahar Singh, who created the email IDs, indicates that he was active in the BJP circles in the Uttar Pradesh’s Gonda district.

In November 2021, Tahar Singh shared Instagram stories and posts where he posed with Karan Bhushan Singh and Prateek Bhushan Singh – the sons of BJP MP from Kaiserganj, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. He called Prateek Bhushan Singh, the BJP MLA from Gonda, his “lovely elder brother”.

Singh with Prateek (left) and Karan Bhushan Singh in November 2021. (Photo: Arijit Singh Visen/Instagram)

Tahar Singh’s support for the BJP is writ all over his Instagram profile, which has just above 2,000 followers. “A woman came up to me and said, ‘I love you’,” he says in a dubbed reel shared in September 2023. “But I said, ‘I love BJP’”.

Ram Udar Verma, a BJP politician from Gonda, makes a more frequent appearance on Tahar Singh’s social media, posing with him in several pictures throughout 2021 and 2022.

Verma told Scroll that Tahar Singh would accompany him in public meetings when he ran as a BJP district panchayat candidate in Gonda’s Mujehna block. “He was about 20 or 21 years old then and would come along with others because his village falls in the block,” he said. “I haven’t seen him in a year. He comes from a very poor family and was a good boy. God knows what sort of company he kept that made him do this.”

Singh (standing, in brown shirt) with Ram Udar Verma (in saffron stole) and Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (sitting) in a picture posted in April 2022. (Photo: Arijit Singh Visen/Instagram)

Tiwari, meanwhile, seems to have access to the higher echelons of the BJP. After the BJP returned to power in Uttar Pradesh in March 2022, he posted a photo posing with Chief Minister Adityanath.

Tiwari (left) with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath in March 2022, after the BJP returned to power in the state. (Photo: Devendra Tiwari/Facebook)

In February 2022, the Bharatiya Kisan Manch endorsed BJP in the state assembly polls. Draped in BJP stoles, Tiwari and Bhargava were photographed with Laxmikant Bajpai, the National Vice President of the BJP. Moreover, in a letter addressed to Tiwari in February 2022, the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP thanked him and his aides for their support during campaigning for the polls.

Tiwari (in green cap) with BJP leaders. (Photo: Parul Bhargava/Facebook)

As recently as in December, Tiwari posted several photos with Uttar Pradesh minister Swatantra Dev Singh and BJP MLA Rajeshwar Singh on his social media profiles. Scroll tried to contact Tiwari on Thursday but his phone was switched off.

Tiwari (second from right) with Uttar Pradesh minister Swatantra Dev Singh (in grey jacket) and BJP MLA Rajeshwar Singh (blue jacket) at an event last month. (Photo: Devendra Tiwari/Facebook)

Tiwari also kept in touch with other players in the Hindutva ecosystem. Brijmohan Das, an Ayodhya-based Hindutva pop artist whose songs are rife with Islamophobic lyrics, is a constant presence on Tiwari’s social media.

Tiwari rallied around several Hindutva causes. In 2023 alone, he applauded Adityanath for the UP government’s ban halal-certified products, advocated action against officials who were lax about cow protection, asked his followers to endorse the Narendra Modi government’s position on the Uniform Civil Code, and tweeted calls to declare India a Hindu Rashtra.

Then came issues with anti-Muslim tropes: he wanted a policy to control “the growing Muslim population in India”, a ban on the entry of Muslims in Ayodhya during the inauguration of Ram temple and the destruction of a mosque in Lucknow, among others.

But Tiwari’s social media activity betrays his political opportunism. Before 2017, when the Samajwadi Party was in power in Uttar Pradesh, Tiwari shared pictures with Samajwadi Party banners and posters of party leader Akhilesh Yadav. He also endorsed the party in the 2017 assembly elections.

Tiwari speaks at a Samajwadi Party elections rally in 2017. (Photo: Facebook/Bhartiy Kisan Manch)

Mishra, accused of actually sending the mails, seems to have the most low-profile social media presence of the three. On his Facebook profile, Mishra is seen in his cover photo with Tiwari. On X, he has posted tweets calling for round-the-clock security for Tiwari and in support of sanatan dharma – a term often used as a synonym for Hinduism.

Mishra’s father Bharat Bhuwal Mishra told Scroll that Tiwari was responsible for falsely implicating his son. He said that his son was pursuing a diploma course in optometry at the Indian Institute of Paramedical Sciences in Lucknow and Tiwari is the director of the institution.

“We are very poor and my son was not getting a place to stay, so Tiwari asked him to stay at the college premises and help him with his NGO’s [non-government organisation] work and cow protection,” Bharat Bhuwal Mishra said. “On December 30, the police took away my son for questioning. I have no clue of what happened and my son has been framed too. Tiwari did the fraud and my son is paying the price.”