It took nine months to get to the killers of Gauri Lankesh, but the story does not end there.
It took nine months of snooping and hard detective work to get to Parashuram Waghmore, the man who allegedly pulled the trigger on journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru, and Amol Kale from Pune, who planned the murder.
Soon after Gauri was killed, the investigation team prepared a list of over 200 extreme right Hindu activists operating in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa. This was because the investigators had evidence that the gun used to kill Gauri was also used to bump off rationalist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, writer Kalburgi and author Govind Pansare. Hence, the people or organisations involved, must be the same.
Moreover, there were striking similarities in the execution as well. Narendra Dabholkar, a doctor and rationalist, was shot by two men on a bike on August 20, 2013, in Pune. Govind Pansare, an author and politician, was shot by two men on a bike on February 16, 2015 in Kolhapur. In the Bengaluru murder of Gauri too, two people were allegedly involved.
The two hits carried out in Maharashtra were linked to the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti. Hence, the police in Karnataka kept the supporters and followers of these organisations under constant surveillance across Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa.
After analysing over 1.5 crore calls from and to these states over a few months, there was absolutely no clue. This led the investigators to the conclusion that Gauri’s killers were not using mobile phones.
But in November 2017, the investigators got a lucky break, thanks to an alert officer. He picked up a call made by K. T. Naveen Kumar, 37, based out of the communally sensitive Chikkamagaluru district in Karnataka to a friend. Kumar was the founder of Hindu Yuva Sene and an active participant in programmes of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and the Sanatan Sanstha. In the telephonic talk to his friend, he casually said he had gone underground following the murder of Gauri.
But officers of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) did not to pick him up immediately. Instead, they started closely monitoring his calls round the clock and kept trailing him between mid-November 2017 and February 2018. During this time, the SIT learnt of another plot being hatched, this time to kill Mysuru-based rationalist K.S. Bhagavan, also known for his anti-Hindu stand.
Naveen Kumar used to be in touch with one Praveen for procuring arms and for a plan to bump off Bhagavan. But Praveen was a clever guy; he used only coin booths across Karnataka, leaving no digital footprint. The SIT then put 126 coin booths across Karnataka on the radar.
That paid off. Conversations were picked up and it was learnt that Kumar and Praveen were to meet; this was what the SIT was waiting for. Praveen was to attend the wedding of a Hindu Janajagruti Samiti activist, Mohan Gowda, in Brahmavar on February 25. But to the bad luck of the SIT, two days before the wedding, a Kannada news channel broke the story of Kumar’s arrest and revealed the SIT’s plan to arrest another accused at the wedding. Praveen just vanished.
But the big break came in May this year when 37-year-old Praveen alias Sujeet Kumar landed in police net in a totally unrelated crime – he was caught in Bengaluru for carrying illegal arms.
From Praveen the police could get a diary with phone numbers and code names and detailed sketches of routes to Gauri’s house. He emerged as a key recruiter. Following his interrogation, the police could arrest three more men: Amol Kale, 39, from Pune; Amit Degwekar, 39, from Goa; and Manohar Edave, 29, from Vijayapura district, Karnataka — all previously unknown to the police.
From Amol Kale the police got another diary which had two hit-lists with 26 names from across the country. All the 26 were known for their ‘anti-Hindu’ stands. Ten of them were from Karnataka and Gauri’s name was prominent. So was Prof. Bhagavan, according to The Hindu.
The two diaries and call records led the police to Waghmore. Actually, Kale did not initially reveal the name of Waghmore. But the police played a trick. They told Kale that Waghmore was arrested. The moment this was told to him, Kale started banging his head on the wall. The police then knew that they had the Gauri killer in sight.
When the police knocked at Waghmore’s door in Sindagi on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border on June 11, he was not surprised. He coolly told the police in plainclothes: “I knew you would come for me.” Even before they could escort him back to Bengaluru, he confessed to pulling the trigger.
According to Waghmore, who runs and internet café, Kale gave him the gun and instructed him to kill Gauri. But he did not know who Gauri was. He later regretted that he had killed the journalist. In the organisation’s rules, questions are not to be asked. If he was told to kill someone, that has to be done with no queries.
Waghmore told the SIT interrogators that Kale gave him the weapon hours before he killed Gauri and he returned it to another person less than 15 minutes after the hit. However, he later retracted saying he made the confessions under duress.
But the SIT is yet to recover the murder weapon — a 7.65 mm bore country-made pistol. The same pistol was reportedly used to kill Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri. “Ballistic analysis of the bullet cartridges at the three crime scenes has concluded they were fired from the same weapon. Its recovery will prove to be a big breakthrough in uncovering the larger plot behind the murders,” the police was quoted in The Hindu.
But the case does not end here. Those arrested so far have been associated with Hindu Yuva Sene, Sri Ram Sene and participated in events held by the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. However, there is no evidence to show that these organisations were involved in the crimes. Like the fundamentalist groups in Bangladesh that eliminate anti-Islam writers and bloggers, the accused in the Gauri case claim to be members of an unnamed organisation formed only to eliminate those harming Hindu dharma. It operates like a terror cell, where teams are given information on a need-to-know basis, a senior official was quoted.
While Kale is a key player, there are others suspected to be his handlers, who are yet to be identified.