Mangaluru, Sep 05 2018: During its investigation into the murder of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, who was killed outside her house exactly a year ago, on September 5, 2017, the Special Investigation Team found that the organisation that allegedly orchestrated not only her murder but also that of M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, and Narendra Dabholkar between 2013 and 2017, had intended to assassinate four rationalists and writers in Karnataka in one day, or in quick succession.
The Special Investigation Team not only seized a diary with a hit list of 34 rationalist and writers, but also a chit with four sets of code names and places in Bengaluru, Mysuru and Mangaluru.
“The evidence we have seen so far indicates that intent was definitely there to target them if not on the same day at least in quick succession, as the hitmen were already identified,” said a senior Special Investigation Team official.
Forensic tests have reportedly matched the handwriting on the chit to that of Amol Kale’s, the alleged mastermind in the Gauri Lankesh murder case.
Kale allegedly wanted to build several self-contained teams with arms, said a source.
The chit when decoded revealed a separate list with four names: playwright Girish Karnad and Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swami of Nidumamidi Mutt from Bengaluru, and rationalists K.S. Bhagavan in Mysuru and Narendra Nayak in Mangaluru. Each name had another code name against it, and the hitmen for the task,” said a SIT officer.
The police were aware of the threat to their lives, as with the exception of Mr. Nayak, the others were also named in the diary. The chit, however, showed how far along the accused were in their plans. “The gang thought about killing four people on the same day, to create a big impact. Investigations indicate they had run recces on the residences of Mr. Nayak, Mr. Karnad and the conspiracy to kill Mr. Bhagavan was already at a very advanced stage,” the officer added.
It was surveillance on a long list of activists from Hindu right-wing fringe groups that gave the SIT its first lead in the Gauri murder probe and shed light on the conspiracy to assassinate Mr. Bhagavan. According to SIT sources, the man who was being trained to carry out the hit was one Anil Kumar from Maddur. His voluntary statement before a magistrate forms crucial evidence in the case. Parashuram Waghmore, the alleged gunman in the Gauri case, who went by the codename ‘builder’, was listed as a hitman for another target in the chit. Kale allegedly told investigators that he wanted to build several self-contained teams with arms, to create layers of deniability to them, said the sources.
Gauri Lankesh case: Unmasking the designs of the gang of killers
Investigations have pointed to an unnamed gang, some of whose members have in the past been associated with the right-wing Hindu organisation Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliates, killing four rationalist thinkers — Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh — in Maharashtra and Karnataka between 2013 and 2017. Though most of its key members have been arrested, investigators say they are only the tip of the iceberg.
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the murder of activist-journalist Gauri has identified over 60 recruits who were radicalised and trained to use firearms. Nearly half of them are from Karnataka, while the rest are from Maharashtra and Goa, said sources. “This is an army of highly radicalised youth trained in arms, to ‘protect Hindu dharma’,” said a senior SIT official. Many of them have no direct links to Sanatan Sanstha or its affiliates.
The gang’s large base of recruits comes from a tri-junction region of south west Maharashtra, Goa and Bombay Karnataka, and from a loose network of Hindu extremist fringe outfits. The hit teams on Kalburgi and Gauri, and the one put together to kill Mysuru-based professor K.S. Bhagavan, were drawn from organisations such as the Sri Ram Sene, Hindu Yuva Sene, Shivapratishthan Hindusthan, and the recently formed cow protection forums. “There seems to be an osmosis of ideas and workers taking place within this network. Even if this gang is eliminated, there are chances of radicalised persons or groups, trained in arms, turning into lone wolves. It is a serious concern,” an official said.
According to officials, the annual meeting of Hindutva organisations in Ponda, Goa by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and several other conclaves act as catalyst in this coming together.
Recruiters target youngsters with a leaning towards violence and those involved in past communal cases. Parashuram Waghmore, the alleged shooter of Gauri, was a Sri Ram Sene worker accused of hoisting a flag of Pakistan in his home town, Sindagi, in 2012 to stir up communal tension. He was recently acquitted of the charge.
“To keep in touch with them, the recruiters give them a mobile phone with a SIM card procured using fake documents. They speak of the dangers the Hindu dharma is facing and instigate them to work to protect it. The recruits are called for indoctrination meetings. They are trained to fire pistols only if the recruiters feel they are ready to commit an act of violence in defence of the dharma. It takes years for the recruit to graduate to this level. Waghmore was recruited in 2014, but trained to kill Gauri Lankesh only in 2017,” an official told The Hindu. To date, the SIT has identified 13 camps held by the organisation, for both arms training and indoctrination.
Though there are more than 60 trained youth, most have not been involved in any hits till date. The governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra are yet to decide on the course of action on this matter. For now, most of them are under surveillance by intelligence agencies. The thinking in Karnataka, sources said, was to file a new suo motu FIR and arrest all the gang members for sedition and promoting insurgency, under the Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act, 2000. However, no such action has been initiated yet.
The gang, kept unnamed to avoid being targeted, is said to have been formed in 2011. It was allegedly led by Veerendra Tawde, an ENT surgeon from Pune, now charge-sheeted in the murders of Dabholkar and Pansare.
Hindus speaking against the faith were considered the biggest enemies and were targeted. All the people on the hit list recovered by the SIT were Hindus.
A senior SIT sleuth added, “After the murders of Dabholkar and Pansare, they seem to have started building a layer of deniability and recruited from various Hindu organisations. The SIT investigation has established that they desperately wanted to use a new pistol to kill Gauri Lankesh, but were forced to depend on the one used in the murders of Pansare and Kalburgi.” said a senior SIT sleuth.
In the past, members of the organisation would lay low for as long as two years after a murder, but that changed in 2017. Investigations now indicate that their pace of work quickened once they assassinated Gauri. Two months after that, they were preparing to kill Prof. Bhagavan. “Apart from buying a large cache of firearms, they were assembling crude bombs to carry out multiple attacks, not just assassinations. This indicates an expanding base, availability of resources, and multiple modules,” a senior investigator said.
Following Tawde’s arrest in June 2016, the gang regrouped by December that year, under the surgeon’s lieutenant Amol Kale, and began preparations for Gauri’s assassination. Though the arrest of most of the key players is a body blow, a regrouping by remnants of the gang cannot be ruled out, a senior investigator said.
Courtesy: The hindu