In India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, a policeman was killed on duty on Monday when a mob of cow vigilantes went on a rampage after reports of alleged cow slaughter by Muslims.

Subodh Kumar Singh, 47, a police inspector, was chased and gunned down on Monday in Siyana, a village in Bulandshahr district, by an angry mob largely comprising activists who subscribe to Hindu nationalism. The mob was protesting the police’s alleged inaction against Muslims “seen slaughtering cows” in a forest.

With new facts emerging about contradictions in the claims of a cow slaughter and the mysterious circumstances of the policeman’s death, the incident has fueled controversy. Opposition parties have dubbed it a ploy by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to stir up communal tensions ahead of next year’s general elections.

Singh’s background is adding fuel to present conspiracy theories. He had investigated an infamous lynching case in 2015, in which Mohammed Akhlaq, a Muslim man, was attacked and killed by a mob at his home in his village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, for allegedly slaughtering a cow. But Singh established that meat at Akhlaq’s home was not beef, which led to arrest of cow activists later.

A day after the inspector’s horrific murder, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Singh Bisht, who is popularly known as Yogi Adityanath, called “for strictest action against cow killers,” according to a government statement issued late on Tuesday.

Bisht, the chief priest of the Gorakhnath Temple and a cow-lover himself, also ordered 1 million rupees’ (US$14,100) compensation for Sumit Kumar, 20, a local youth who succumbed to injuries suffered in Monday’s attack. Kumar had been part of the mob and was named as accused No 16 in the First Information Report (FIR) of the case, and was fatally wounded in crossfire by the same 0.32-caliber pistol with which the police inspector was shot.

There was not a single word on the murder of the policeman in the statement. This has shocked many, especially because a police officer was shot dead while trying to maintain law and order, especially as the situation could escalate with around 500,000 Muslims present near the area for a congregation. However, the state government has announced compensation of 5 million rupees to Singh’s family.

‘Big conspiracy’

Uttar Pradesh’s director general of police O P Singh has termed this incident a “big conspiracy” that could escalate the tensions between Hindu and Muslim communities. Activists and opposition parties had stated the same earlier.

But the “conspiracy” is unfolding sooner than it was expected.

An FIR was registered in the cow-slaughter case on Monday by Yogesh Raj, the Hindu nationalist organization Bajrang Dal’s district head. He is now accused No 1 in the Subodh Kumar Singh murder case. The FIR appears to be fake on three counts: First, the found cow carcasses turned out to be old; second, five of seven Muslim names in the complaint were either fake or those of children; and third, a video of that fateful day says “Kundan” killed the cows.

Yogesh Raj continues to be in hiding, though he released a video on Wednesday claiming innocence.

The FIR was filed after Raj and other cow activists brought an animal carcass in a tractor-trolley to the police station and alleged that they had seen seven people slaughtering the cows at the nearby village.

Apart from two boys aged 11 and 12, the FIR has “Sudaif” as first accused of cow slaughter. He was never a resident of the village. “Ilyas,” the second name on the list, had left the village with his family around 15 years ago and settled in the national capital region. “Sharafat,” the third name in the FIR, has been living in the city of Faridabad in Haryana state with his family for many years, police sources said.

“Sarfuddin and Parvez, [the other two accused adults] named in the FIR, are residents of the same village. However, they were in Bulandshahr from Saturday to attend the congregation where [a million] Muslim devotees had gathered for three-day prayers. The families of both individuals provided photographs and videos of the men attending the ceremony as proof,” a police official said.

A trail of inconsistencies

A video procured by news portal UttarPradesh.org shows protesters having a conversation about the presence of a “trolley” in the area even as raging fires can be seen in the background.

One voice says the trolley had the slaughtered cow and the individual who had slaughtered the cow was one Kundan – a name that sounds Hindu. Anil Tiwari, the head of the portal, says, “This video exposes [the] entire conspiracy. Hope the cops would dig further and track down the mastermind and the real cow slaughters.”

Raj told police that around 9am on Monday, he and three of his friends had gone for a walk in the neighboring village where they spotted seven people slaughtering cows. “Before we could raise an alarm, those people fled. They were all residents of his village,” Raj’s statement in the FIR says.

His account differs from that of his sister Suman, who told the police that Raj had rushed out of the house on receiving a phone call that morning.

Villagers who have farms where the said carcass was found had also given statements that they didn’t hear or see any cow being slaughtered there.

Rajkumar Chaudhary, on whose farm the animal carcasses had been found, received information in this regard by phone and rushed to check his field, his wife said. Around half an hour later some villagers took away Chaudhary’s tractor-trailer as well.

Siyana’s junior revenue officer Raj Kumar Bhaskar, who went to investigate on hearing reports about the alleged cow slaughter, said, “It looked like several days old. Head and skin hung like clothes on a hanger. Anybody who would indulge in cow slaughter would not put it out for display, knowing the situation in the state. It was visible from far away.”

While the revenue officer was still at the site, cow activists arrived there to load the carcass on a tractor and took it toward Bulandshahr-Garhmukteshwar State Highway to protest.

A senior official said, “Police officers and district administration were aware of the sensitivity of this incident because [more than 500,000] Muslims had gathered on the outskirts of Bulandshahr for an Islamic congregation concluding same day.”

That is why Singh tried to pacify the agitated villagers, asked them to clear the highway and gave assurance that action would be taken against the people responsible for the alleged cow slaughter, said a police officer.

In a video clip that emerged, Singh can be seen speaking with Yogesh Raj. He had allegedly managed to persuade the crowd to withdraw the protest but Raj was adamant.

Meanwhile, the crowd grew, with scores of youngsters joining from several villages, according to the FIR.

Speaking on the incident, Congress party spokesman Anshu Awasthi said, “The BJP’s conspiracy to incite communal violence in Bulandhshar to reap political dividends in [the] 2019 general elections has [been] foiled. Wonder what would be Yogi’s and Modi’s game plan now.”