The probe into the gunning down of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017, has led to the unearthing of two separate murder plots involving guns in the last six months.
In December last year, a special investigation team of Karnataka police, which was on the trail of gunrunners in Vijayapura to find the suppliers of the 7.65mm country-made pistol and ammunition used to kill Lankesh, stumbled upon an alleged plot involving gunrunners and shooters from Vijayapura to carry out the contract killing of a Bengaluru journalist, allegedly at the behest of a prominent editor.
Last month, the SIT unearthed a second plot involving far-right groups, who are also allegedly linked to the Lankesh murder conspiracy, to carry out the murder of a Mysuru-based writer-rationalist who has criticised aspects of Hinduism. The second breakthrough followed the arrest of a man linked to far-right groups, who alleged surveyed Lankesh’s home for the shooters.
“We have the satisfaction of preventing two murders that could have rocked Karnataka if they had occurred, in the course of this investigation. We are determined to find the killers in the Gauri Lankesh case and are working in that direction,” said a police official attached with the SIT.
One of the main angles of investigation in the Lankesh murder has been that of arms and ammunition. Field intelligence reports suggested that the 7.65mm country-made pistol and ammunition used to kill Lankesh were sourced in Vijayapura, a centre for the illegal arms trade. In the first few months of its investigations, the SIT tracked down dozens of gunrunners who source weapons in Madhya Pradesh and sell them on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border in places such as Vijayapura and Sangli.
While on the trail of gunrunners in Vijayapura, the SIT found that one gang with links to gun dealers in Vijayapura — Tahir Hussain, Sashidhar Mundewadi and their associates — had sourced several guns around the period when Lankesh was murdered. Further investigations revealed that the gang was planning a supari killing in Bengaluru, police said. The SIT alerted Bengaluru police, and Tahir Hussain was arrested on December 3 from a hotel in Bengaluru, followed by Mundewadi.
According to SIT, investigations revealed that the contract killers had been hired by journalist Ravi Belagere to kill his former colleague, Sunil Heggaravalli, for allegedly wooing away Belagere’s second wife. The Bengaluru police later arrested Belagere in the conspiracy. Last month, Belagere and the sharpshooter he had allegedly hired were chargesheeted by police in connection with the conspiracy to kill Heggaravalli.
The second alleged conspiracy is similar to the Lankesh murder — a plot to shoot down writer-rationalist K S Bhagwan in Mysuru. The SIT got wind of this plot when it found that a man in possession of bullets from Maddur in south Karnataka, who had been allegedly part of the Lankesh murder plot, was close to helping execute another murder.
Based on the SIT probe, the Bengaluru police arrested K T Naveen Kumar, 37, an activist of the Hindu Yuva Sena who is also associated with the Sanatan Sanstha, on February 18. Kumar was in illegal possession of bullets and, the police probe has found, was in the process of procuring a gun for the planned killing of Bhagwan at the behest of his co-conspirators.
Police sources said that a week’s delay in the arrest of Kumar would have resulted in a murder attempt on the writer-rationalist. Investigations conducted so far have revealed that Kumar was tasked with organising a support group to carry out surveillance of the writer’s home, procure a weapon and facilitate a shooting operation by a core team from outside Karnataka, police said.
Police sources are optimistic that finding the conspirators involved in the plot to kill Bhagwan will lead the SIT eventually to the conspirators involved in the Lankesh murder plot.