A year on, a look at how Gauri Lankesh’s murder probe gained pace over time

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his September 5th marks the first death anniversary of firebrand journalist, Gauri Lankesh.

On the same date, last year, Lankesh was shot and killed by three unknown assailants, while she was entering her house in Bengaluru’s Rajarajeshwari Nagar after returning from work.

Aged 55 at that time, Lankesh was recognised as the outspoken editor of her homegrown magazine, Gauri Lankesh Patrike. Apart from being an avid supporter of women’s right, she was an ardent critic of Hindu fundamentalism.

As the nation pays respect to the deceased journalist, we bring to you the details of the probe in Lankesh’s murder case:

Probe gained pace over time

  • Since its formation, the special investigation team (SIT) has now claimed to have completed its probe after arresting 12 suspects while claiming the involvement of a shadowy nameless organisation it has linked to the crime and the murder of three other individuals – MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. All of the mentioned personalities campaigned against superstition and espoused rationalism. However, one of the accused’s lawyer has claimed that there is no evidence.
  • Several reports – on account of interviews with the SIT officers and the document submitted in the court by the police – suggest that the plot to kill Lankesh was set afoot a year ago. The officers stated that the reason behind the cold-blooded murder was Lankesh’s public comments, that were perceived as being disrespectful to Hindu sentiments.
  • Initially, the probe in the Lankesh murder case was slow as even after the investigators claimed that bullets recovered from the scene matched those recovered from the murder scene of scholar MM Kalburgi – who was shot dead at his house in 2015. The attempts to piece together the information didn’t end up in a major breakthrough.
  • The CCTV footage from Lankesh’s house also provided very little information as the man who murdered her was wearing a helmet – making him almost unidentifiable.
  • After arriving at a dead end with phone tracking, the SIT resorted to more conventional method of surveillance which also, in turn, was not helpful.
  • It was only when the police got a vital piece of intel about a man – who has been identified as Naveen Kumar. He had been missing since Lankesh’s murder. Kumar, a native of Maddur in Mandya district, was traced to a village in Chikkamagaluru district, and was put under surveillance.
  • While he was under surveillance, Kumar was noticed using coin phone booth frequently – with visits to as many as 128 such booths. The police, in response, narrowed it down to 6 booths which were visited by Kumar at frequent intervals.
  • After intercepting call between Kumar and man – where they we planning another murder call – police nabbed him.

Subsequent arrests

  • The said phone call was regarding a plot to kill rationalist writer KS Bhagwan, known for his strong views on Hinduism, which finally led to Kumar’s arrest.
  • He was arrested on February 18 in Bengaluru, allegedly in possession of ammunition that he was about to sell. This was a major breakthrough as it gave in more details of the others suspected of involvement in the plot.
  • On May 20, Sujith Kumar alias Praveen – who is claimed to be the person liaising with Naveen Kumar from Kolar – was arrested by the police.
  • As per reports, Sujith Kumar provided the investigators with the information that led to further arrests – including that of Amol Kale, a resident of Pune and believed to be the mastermind of the killings, and Amit Degwekar, also a resident of Maharashtra and the second suspected mastermind, from Davanagere in Karnataka.
  • Additionally, the police also arrested Manohar Edave, a resident of Vijayapura, who it says played a key role in recruiting the killers.
  • After interrogation of the above-mentioned suspects and digital analysis of CCTV footage from Lankesh’s house, the police were able to identify Parashuram Waghmare – as the person who shot Lankesh.
  • Subsequently, Amit Baddi and Ganesh Miskin, who is suspected to have ferried Waghmare to the murder scene in a two-wheeler, Rakesh Bangera, who allegedly trained the shooter, Mohan Naik, Suresh and Bharat Kurane, were also picked up by the police.

The evidence

  • Even though it was earlier established – with the help of ballistic reports – that same weapon had been used to kill Lankesh and Kalburgi, the police claim that they didn’t want to just focus around this discovery as their intention was to catch the actual killers.
  • During Kale’s arrest, SIT secured a diary that allegedly belonged to him and proved to be vital in cracking the case.
  • As the investigation progressed, the SIT says it became aware of a shadowy organisation, with Kale at its helm, behind Lankesh’s murder.
  • As per reports, Kale took over as the head of the organisation after the arrest of Virendra Tawde in connection with the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar on 20 August 2013.
  • SIT believes the organisation was formed in 2011 by Tawde. Kale and a man identified as Murali were in charge of recruitment in Maharashtra and Edave and Sujith Kumar were in charge of Karnataka.
  • It was around this time that the group came in contact with Bangera, who gave weapons training to the recruits