Last evening, a Press trust of India report said that the same gun was used to kill journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh and rationalist M M Kalburgi in Karnataka. The report quoted SIT sources, that revealed the state forensic science laboratory has it confirmed in a report. As the investigation unfolds, the case gets even more curious.
The forensic report submitted to the Special Investigation Team probing the killing of Lankesh is part of the first chargesheet filed recently by the SIT naming K T Naveen Kumar as an accused.
This is the first official confirmation of the link between the two killings which happened after a gap of two years of each other.
Kalburgi (77) was shot dead in his house on August 30, 2015, in Dharwad and 55-year old Lankesh on September 5, 2017 here.
The SIT members had earlier talked about the same-gun theory but for the first time it has come out in the open to show that Kalburgi’s murder was the handiwork of the same gang.
The bullets in both cases “have been fired through a single country made pistol chambered for 7.65 mm caliber pistol cartridges,” a source said quoting the report. The report also pointed out that the scratches formed by the firing pin on the bullets were almost identical.
Lankesh, who was known for her strong anti-Hindutva stand, was shot dead in front of her house, triggering a nationwide outrage.
The SIT formed to investigate her murder has formally arrested Naveen Kumar of Maddur as one of the accused.
Four more persons have been arrested for allegedly plotting to kill another rationalist and writer K S Bhagawan, also a strong critic of Hindutva.
The SIT is also probing whether they have any links to the Gauri murder case.
On September 5, 2017, the day journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead at her home in Bengaluru, Neveen, an activist linked to a Hindutva organisation — and now arrested for providing logistical support for the murder — returned to his home in Maddur 70 km away, and hurriedly took his wife to an ashram in Mangaluru.
The Karnataka Police SIT probing the murder case believes that this was an attempt by K T Naveen Kumar to create an alibi for denial of involvement in the murder. Naveen Kumar is associated with the Hindu Yuva Sena and Sanatan Sanstha. In a chargesheet filed on May 28 against Naveen Kumar (37), the first person to be arrested in the murder case of 55-year-old Lankesh, the SIT has attached a statement of his wife Roopa C N, a government employee, detailing her husband’s association with Sanatan Sanstha and the events on the day Lankesh was killed.
“He had gone away from home saying he was going to attend a religious programme in Hubbali. He, however, returned the next day saying he lost his bag on a train. He told me he was not feeling well and he said we should go to Mangaluru. We reached Mangaluru around 9.45 pm and a car picked us up at the bus stop and took us to a Sanatan ashram. The next morning we saw on television that Gauri Lankesh had been killed,” reads the statement provided to the police by Naveen Kumar’s wife.
Roopa’s statement also says that her husband was associated with Sanatan Sanstha and that he took her for events in Shimoga and other places. The couple also had a Kannada-speaking visitor from the Sanstha, identified as “Anna”, stay at their home for a day. Naveen Kumar was arrested by the SIT on March 2, 2018, and charged with providing logistical support in the conspiracy to kill Lankesh in the form of supply of bullets and carrying out surveillance at the home and office of the journalist. In its first chargesheet in the crime, the SIT quoted Naveen Kumar as saying that Lankesh was killed for her “anti-Hindu views”.
Despite consistent denials by Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), of any association with the accused in the murder case, there has been an increasing amount of circumstantial links between the groups and arrested people. Soon after Naveen Kumar was arrested, Sanatan Sanstha spokesperson Chethan Rajhans denied any links between Naveen Kumar and the organisation. “We are not associated in any way with this person called Naveen Kumar. Sanatan Sanstha is a spiritual organisation. We are active in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa. This is the first time I am hearing his name,’’ he said.
HJS spokesperson Mohan Gowda, however, admitted that Naveen Kumar was associated with the group. “He is known to us. He attended our Adiveshan in Goa last year on our invitation. He has attended dharma sabhas in Bengaluru and a programme on Bhagat Singh. He was also part of a programme in his own hometown Maddur,’’ he said.
In its first chargesheet, the SIT produced a cyber forensics report from a private agency about a news report posted on the Sanatan Sanstha website in December 2017 of a joint programme hosted by Naveen Kumar’s Hindu Yuva Sena and HJS in Maddur in November 2017. A report on the dharma sabha meeting was posted on sanatan.org with a December 20, 2017 dateline. The event was organised by Naveen Kumar, and the owners of Annapurneshwari Kalyana Mandir have given statements to the SIT confirming that the wedding hall was booked by Naveen Kumar.
After the emergence of the news of Naveen Kumar’s detention, the report on the website disappeared. A Google cache of the page, which was available for a while, indicated that the original link was available until February 26, 2018.
Images from social media sites for HJS and Sanatan Sanstha also show the presence of Naveen Kumar at five events of these outfits through 2017.
Sanatan Sanstha and HJS have also denied links with four others who were arrested by the SIT on May 31 in connection with the Lankesh murder case despite their circumstantial links to the groups.
The Karnataka SIT is hopeful that the arrests in the Lankesh case will throw open investigations in the murders of three rationalists and progressive thinkers that occurred between 2013 and 2015 in Maharashtra and Karnataka. The five men arrested by the SIT in the Lankesh case have also been booked in a separate case in Karnataka for plotting the murder of Kannada writer Prof K S Bhagwan, which was prevented due to the SIT’s probe in the Lankesh case.
“There must be a reason why so many links are emerging in these crimes to people linked to Sanatan Sanstha and HJS. Why are the names of people from other organisations not emerging in these investigations in three different states?’’ an SIT officer said. The SIT has not officially named Sanatan Sanstha and HJS in its first chargesheet in the Gauri Lankesh murder.
[based on media reports]