Harvard saga: How NYT turned a scam by suspected Pakistani Tauseef into a ‘Hindutvavadi conspiracy’ to shield Nidhi Razdan

— Consider reading the article Harvard saga: How NYT turned a scam by suspected Pakistani Tauseef into a ‘Hindutvavadi conspiracy’ to shield Nidhi Razdan on OpIndia website —

Almost a year after former NDTV journalist Nidhi Razdan had revealed that she was scammed into believing that she has been offered a teaching job at the Harvard University, The New York Times published a report on the issue 2 days ago. In the report titled ‘That Job at Harvard? It’s Not Real’, NYT tried to blame Hindu nationalists for the scam, and revealed that while several women in India were targeted in the elaborated scam, only Nidhi Razdan had fallen for it, who had resigned from NDTV to move to the USA, and had announced the same in public.

Although the article says that the identity of the scamsters is not known, it claims that they had expressed support online for the Hindu nationalist movement in India. It is not revealed where this support for Hindu nationalism was expressed by the people behind the scam. The article also repeatedly uses the term ‘Hindu nationalist’ while referring to the Modi government and BJP, making a clear insinuation on the political leaning of the unknown culprits.

Interestingly, while NYT claims that there could be Pakistan links to the scam and that the scamster spoke in a UAE accent, it blames Hindutvavadis without any proof. Further, it also mentions that a BJP spokesperson was targeted in this scam, Nighat Abbas, and yet, it claims that journalists like Nidhi were targeted because they speak up against the “Hindu nationalist cause”.

New York Times mentioned in their report:

“Nearly a year later, it is still uncertain why Ms. Razdan and the other women were targeted. Although the scammers expressed support online for the Hindu nationalist movement in India, they shed little light on their decision to trick reporters”.

Essentially, the New York Times declared that the scamsters were Hindutvavadis at the very beginning of their “investigation”. Did they provide proof for their assertion? Not really. Essentially, the New York Times took a year to “investigate” the story and had all the evidence to the contrary, but chose to blame Hindutvavadis when it was a spokesperson of Hindutvavadi party BJP who had raised alarm over the scam and the handle mentioned, who had committed the scam, was one who has been abusing Hindutvavadis on Twitter.

The NYT “investigation” and their conduct raises far more questions than it answers. The primary question that it raises is whether NYT purposely conducted an “investigation” that revealed nothing, simply to tangentially blame Hindutvavadis, to shield Nidhi and give her a new lease on public life.

There are certain points to be noted about the NYT investigation before we prove how the publication lied through their teeth.

  1. They mention, right off the bat, that Nidhi wanted to accept this opportunity at Harvard because she was fed up with the toxic media atmosphere in India and that she was being mercilessly trolled by “Hindutvavadis”.
  2. They slyly attribute the scam to Nidhi’s “digital naivety”.
  3. After a 1 year-long investigation that involved 3 journalists, New York Times proclaims that they don’t know who did the scam and the ultimate purpose of the scam – basically, they give no additional information as such except saying that Hindutvavadis did it – without any proof.
  4. They claim that they reviewed Tweet archives of certain handles (two to be specific). However, even after that, they claimed the handle was a Hindutvavadi.
  5. They have on record that the number was from UAE and the scamster had a Pakistani accent, yet they blamed Hindutvavadis
  6. Nighat Abbas had alerted about the scam on Twitter months before Nidhi announced her quitting NDTV, but she did not bother.
  7. In fact, it was Hindutvavadis who had alerted about the scam, but, NYT decided to blame Hindutvavadis for a handle that had abused them in the past.

In the article, they mention several journalists, namely, Rohini Singh, Zainab Sikandar and one anonymous journalist who was sent the same scam offer. Interestingly, all three journalists got the scam offers from someone called Tauseef Ahmad.

The other person who this scam was tried on was BJP spokesperson Nighat Abbas. On 29th November 2019, Nighat Abbas had taken to Twitter to raise alarm over the scam. In fact, she had tagged the handle of Tauseef Ahmad, the person who is the common link in all the journalists targeted as well. She had said in a video shared on Twitter that Tauseef is cheating people in the name of Harvard University.

सावधान @tauseefahmad9 नाम के व्यक्ति से, हॉर्वर्ड के नाम पर ठगी।
ज़्यादा से ज़्यादा लोगों के साथ ये विडीओ शेयर करें RT करके।
ये व्यक्ति कोई आतंकवादी भी हो सकता है। @NIA_India @ANI @PTI_News @HMOIndia @aajtak @indiatvnews @ABPNews @News18India @Republic_Bharat @TV9Bharatvarsh pic.twitter.com/DDMoC9BQkL

— Nighat Abbass 🇮🇳 (@abbas_nighat) November 29, 2019

On the 30th November Congress spokesperson Tehseen Poonawalla had lauded Nighat Abbas for speaking up about the scam. When Tehseen tweeted, it was a Hindutvavadi handle who had tagged Nidhi Razdan and Rohini Singh and asked why they follow Tauseef Ahmad, the man who was perpetuating the scam.

Tehseen, can you please check why @Nidhi and Rohini are following this fraud??

— बींदनी गोलगप्पा (@Golgappa_09) November 30, 2019

Another individual back in November 2019 had taken a screenshot of Nidhi Razdan and Rohini following Tauseef and asked Nighat to ask them if this individual was a terrorist.

Rohini & Nidhi following to him
I think they know about him

Ma’am you shoul ask to both about him, that he is a terrorist or a hacker pic.twitter.com/UYgtFifJZF

— Nipun Bhardwaj`™✍ (@ImPurn_IND) November 29, 2019

This raises an important question.

Why did NYT not raise this aspect in their article about Nidhi and Rohini Singh following the scamster even after they were alerted? In fact, it was months after a Hindutvavadi herself had tagged Nidhi to alert her about the scam, she left her job on the offer of the same scamster.

One can always say that someone who is followed by so many people might not have checked her mentions and perhaps did not notice that she was tagged. However, it is pertinent to note that Tehseen also responded to the tweet where she was tagged and given that Tehseen is a well-known person with a verified handle, Nidhi would have seen his notification separately in the “verified” tab of notifications (an option that verified handles have).

Therefore, it stands to reason that Nidhi and Rohini actually did see the notification of the conversation where the scam was being discussed and the fact that they were following the person who was scamming them and others.

Interestingly, Rohini clearly did realise that it was a scam and distanced herself, according to NYT. But why did Nidhi not do the same is a mystery that remains, even after NYT took a year to investigate the case.

Who is Tauseef Ahmad and what trace of him remains on Twitter

Tauseef Ahmad is mentioned several times in the article by the New York Times and is the common thread of this scam. From Nighat Abbas to Rohini Singh, Zainab Sikankar and finally, Nidhi, all got the same scam offer from Tauseef, even though it was only Nidhi who fell for this scam.

It is pertinent to note that there is no evidence to support that Tauseef was an Indian.

Here is what NYT says about Tauseef after talking to The Print journalist Zainab Sikandar (emphasis added):

“Flattered and curious, Ms Sikander began chatting with Tauseef on the WhatsApp instant messaging and calling app. She wasn’t thrown off by the fact that his phone number started with the country code of the United Arab Emirates, although he claimed to be in the Boston area. Maybe he was a foreign student with Dubai connections, she thought. She remembers his voice: young, with a South Asian accent, which she believed sounded Pakistani“.

The quote clearly mentions that he had a UAE number and spoke with a Pakistani accent.

NYT goes on to quote a cybersecurity expert who seems to have examined Nidhi Razdan’s computer. They say (emphasis added):

“Mr. Jain believed foreign governments might have played a role. The suspicious file he uncovered on Ms. Razdan’s computer contained an IP address that had once been linked to a hacking group believed to be associated with Pakistani intelligence“.

It is therefore clear, from the NYT’s own report, that there is a strong suspicion that Tauseef was actually from Pakistan.

NYT also claims that they have examined that archived tweets of those involved in the scam – presumably – including that of Tauseef Ahmad. Yet, they have claimed that the scam could have been conducted by “Hindutvavadis”.

Forget archive of the tweets, if NYT had just searched on Twitter itself, even though Tauseef’s account has been suspended, it would amply clear that Tauseef was no Hindutvavadi. In fact, he had abused Hindus and those who NYT likes to brand “Hindutvavadis”.

On 15th of November 2019, Tauseef giving threats to those speaking against Islam had surfaced. A Twitter user had then taken a screenshot and tagged Twitter, urging them to suspend the handle as well.

@TwitterIndia @TwitterSupport @TwitterSafety ATTENTION!!

Threats to @anushthana by this handle @tauseefahmad9 on harm & intimidation. Requesting urgent action to suspend the handle. @CPDelhi @DelhiPolice @DrGPradhan @ippatel @upssarkar @VikasMysterious pic.twitter.com/5F6JIaYgRW

— Rashtra (@Rashtra_) November 15, 2019

There are several responses by Hindus that remain on Twitter, even though Tauseef’s handle has been suspended and we could not find an archive of his tweets on the internet.

There are several Hindus who responded to him. One prominent Twitter user and author had responded with the words of Ambedkar, talking about how Muslims can’t accept India as their motherland, pointing to the fact that Tauseef was anything but a Hindutvavadi.

@tauseefahmad9 https://t.co/DLpA6vvgnO

— Amit Keshav Gupta (@AmitKeshavGupta) November 15, 2019

There were others who had followed suit:

That moron Tauseef has blocked me after just 1 tweet. He can only bully a girl but when confronted runs away. @Aabhas24 Sir, thanks for your support. pic.twitter.com/IULnWkStlS

— Rashtra (@Rashtra_) November 15, 2019

We are living in secular democracy Freedom of speech is supreme, you cannot use Victorian era laws to censor anyone If you don’t like any body comments just ignore and move on Otherwise you can block her from seeing your tweets
Kitno ko rokege ga hate ke naam par @tauseefahmad9

— Proud Bharatiya (@yugal_98) November 15, 2019

An Education doesnot necessarily guarantee the Wisdom of Human Conscience.

This fellow @tauseefahmad9 is simply encashing on his Alma Mater.

The kind of intimidating tweets he has made clearly shows what kind of Wisdom he holds.

Poor fellow, rich Degree, ZERO conscience


— Biswajit Goswami🇮🇳 (@biswajit002) November 15, 2019

While we now don’t know what tweet was being responded to, but on the 15th of November itself, one Twitter user had responded to Tauseef mentioning that his “Indian Muslim friend” had also called for a second partition of India. We can only extrapolate this response to assume that perhaps Tauseef was speaking as a Pakistani about Indian Muslims and therefore, this response, specifically mentioning “Indian Muslim” was given to him in 2019.

One of your “Indian Muslim” friend giving threat of second partition. Have seen so many of them celebrate Pak’s victory over India in cricket matches very often too. pic.twitter.com/9MaBWFCPPo

— Venky 🇮🇳 (@PercyJ4567) November 15, 2019

Let us pause for a moment and notice the timeline.

It was on 29th of November 2019 that Nighat Abbas had tagged Tauseef Ahmad on Twitter and alerted about the scam.

Then, on the 30th November 2019 that a “Hindutvavadi” had tagged Nidhi Razdan and Rohini Singh wondering why they were following the scamster on Twitter.

Before all of this, on the 15th of November 2019, Twitter had already erupted countering certain problematic statements by Tauseef where he had also threatened a Hindu woman. By this time, Nidhi was already following this account. We can assume this since NYT article specifically says that Nidhi got the first email on the 14th of November 2019. Now, assuming that Nidhi was already following Tauseef on Twitter, the following questions arise:

  1. Did she notice Tauseef threatening a Hindu woman?
  2. If yes, why was she ok with it? Why did she still continue to indulge with him trusting the fact that the Harvard job offer from him was genuine?
  3. Even if she missed all of this (highly unlikely, but let’s play along, just as Nidhi did), did she not notice Tehseen’s response on the 30th of November 2019 where Nighat had clearly tagged the individual and alerted about the scam? Where another handle had tagged Nidhi asking why she was following the individual involved in the scam?
  4. If she did, why did she continue to indulge for months on end?

After all of these red flags, it was months later, on the 13th of June 2020, that she announced that she was quitting her job for the mythical job offer from Harvard.

We are being asked by the New York Times, and Nidhi (who has declared this case closed) to believe that Nidhi missed all the red flags one after the other, months on end, to eventually quit her job for a scam offer, because she is digitally “naive”.

So where did the Hindutvavadi theory come from, as peddled by the NYT?

Here are the places where NYT randomly theorises that the scam was perpetrated by Hindu Nationalists.

First mention:

“Nearly a year later, it is still uncertain why Ms. Razdan and the other women were targeted. Although the scammers expressed support online for the Hindu nationalist movement in India, they shed little light on their decision to trick reporters”.

This is right at the beginning of the report before Tauseef is even mentioned.

The next mention, where the “Hindu Nationalist” theory gathers steam is based on the say-so of a journalist who spoke “on the condition of anonymity”.

The next target was another female journalist working at a prominent Indian publication, who spoke with The Times on the condition that she was not identified. Suspicious about the scammer’s U.A.E. phone number, she quickly broke off contact too. But the scammers didn’t give up. By the time they communicated in November 2019 with Nighat Abbass, a spokeswoman for India’s ruling political party, known by its acronym, the B.J.P., they had copied email signatures from real Harvard employees and swiped official letterhead from the university’s website.

Around the same time, they opened a new Twitter account under the name Seema Singh, who identified herself as a “coder” and claimed she was based in Bharat, another name for India that is preferred by nationalists who see “India” as a colonial term. She sent sexually aggressive messages, tagging Ms. Sikander and some of the other women targeted in the scam. “You look so hot,” she said in one tweet. “Can I join you in your shower?” said another.

Seema Singh later updated her profile, claiming to be a bisexual Deutsche Bank employee living in Frankfurt. (A Deutsche Bank spokesman said the bank had no employees by that name.) She seemed intimately familiar with Indian politics, constantly commenting on the often raw divide between India’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims and calling out personal connections that the women targeted in the scam had with Kashmir.

Ms. Abbass didn’t notice the raunchy tweets from Seema’s account. Excited about making her first trip to America, she focused on exchanging emails and messages with Tauseef.

They attach a WhatsApp chat but we don’t know if that chat was with Nighat or with the anonymous journalist quoted. Beyond that, we have no evidence about this handle being authentic, something that even NYT agrees. And since it was Tauseef who was the common link in all these scams, it is interesting that NYT would ignore that and blame “Hindutvavadis” based on a fake account they could not track and came up only later.

Another excerpt from the NYT article randomly blames Hindus.

Another theory emerged: Perhaps the women were targeted by an individual, someone ideologically aligned with the Hindu nationalist ruling party in India and willing to go to great lengths to humiliate critics of the government’s intervention in Kashmir and those who spoke out against the divide between Hindus and Muslims. On Twitter, the scammers’ Seema account, which was like an alter ego to the more mild Tauseef account, frequently ranted about these issues“.

They firstly claim that it is a “THEORY” that it “COULD HAVE BEEN” Hindu nationalist because the targets were critics of the government. Even though they mention Nighat Abbas, who is a spokesperson of BJP, the ruling party, was also targeted. So if she was also targeted, how would this theory of “critics” being targeted hold? NYT does not explain but relies on pure conjectures.

The other point they mention is the fake account of “Seema” talking about Hindus and Muslims. They mention that Seema was a “mild” version of Tauseef – the probable Pakistani handle. In this para, though, they almost make it sound like Tauseef himself was a “Hindu nationalist”, a conjecture that has been summarily disproven.

In fact, throughout the article, they mention “Hindu Nationalist” as a pejorative while talking about the “critics of the government” insinuating that it was the Hindu Nationalists who targeted these individuals.

This entire “investigation” by the New York Times is an attempt to not only rehabilitate Nidhi Razdan and paint her as a victim, but also blame Hindutvavadis for something they did not do. In fact, they even fail to mention that a “Hindutvavadi” account had tagged Nidhi Razdan specifically to alert her about the scam in November 2019. This entire investigation, which eventually declares that they have no idea who did the scam and why, and then goes on to blame Hindutvavadi, is an elaborate attempt to blame the Modi government, the supporters of the government, Hindus in general and Hindutvavadis without any proof. Interestingly, even Nidhi Razdan blamed everyone, except herself, to declare that the case was closed after the NYT article. She did not care who did it, or why it happened, she was just happy that the NYT painted her a victim and ended up blaming Hindutvavadis.

Was that the aim all along? One would never know.