Forensic analysis of bullet cartridges found at the scene of murder of Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi in Dharwad in August this year and comparison with cartridges recovered from the spots where communist leader Govind Pansare was killed in Kolhapur earlier this year, and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in 2013, has provided evidence of the probable involvement of a common set of killers.
While the three cases were earlier being linked on the basis of the profile of the victims, probable motives, modus operandi and the 7.65-mm countrymade genre of weapons used for the killings, the cartridges provide the first physical evidence linking the murders.
Dabholkar, 69, was shot dead in Pune by four bullets fired from a 7.65-mm countrymade pistol while Pansare, 81, and his wife Uma Pansare were shot at with five bullets from two 7.65 mm countrymade weapons. In both these cases in Maharashtra, two assailants came on a motorcycle in the early hours of the day and targeted their victims outdoors. Pansare’s wife survived the bid on her life while he succumbed to injuries.
Kalburgi was murdered in the living room of his Dharwad home in the early hours of August 30 by two assailants who came on a motorcycle and fired two bullets from a 7.65-mm countrymade pistol to his head.
Though no evidence has been found yet to prove it, the three murders have long been suspected to be the handiwork of a right wing group opposed to the outspoken views of the three victims on irrational practices including some beliefs in the Hindu religious system.
Forensic analysis of the cartridges recovered from the three crime scenes have now established links between the weapons used in the Kalburgi and Pansare murders and the Dabholkar and Pansare murders.
“The cartridges recovered in the Kalburgi case and the Pansare case are very similar according to forensic analysis. There is similarity in the three cases through the cartridges apart from the modus operandi but this is not sufficient to identify the perpetrators as yet,’’ a senior Karnataka police officer said.
Sources said while the cartridges in the Kalburgi and Pansare cases were very similar, a match has also emerged between the second set of cartridges found at the Pansare murder spot and those found at the Dabholkar murder scene. There was no match, however, between the cartridges found at the Dabholkar murder scene and the Kalburgi murder site, sources said.
It is suspected that one particular set of operatives, using two weapons, carried out the three killings.
On December 4, Karnataka Home Minister G Parameshwar said in Mysuru that the state police had found crucial evidence to link the murders of the three rationalists. “We have some strong clues to prove that there is a connection between the murders,’’ he said.
A well-established forensic technique called ballistic fingerprinting, considered on par with other fingerprinting techniques in establishing the signatures of firearms, is said to have provided evidence of linkages in the three murders.
“All I can say is that the investigation in the Kalburgi case is progressing. I cannot reveal details until the investigation is completed,’’ Karnataka DG (CID) H C Kishore Chandra said.
“The finding of links between the cartridges is not sufficient to establish the identity of the group involved in the killings,’’ another Karnataka police officer said.
One of the angles the Karnataka CID is pursuing, like the CBI that is investigating the Dabholkar murder and the Maharashtra SIT that is investigating the Pansare murder, is the possible involvement of four missing members of the right wing Sanathan Sanstha who are accused in a 2009 blast case in Margao, Goa.
The four missing persons — Jai Prakash alias Anna and Rudra Patil, both from Karnataka, and Sarang Kulkarni alias Sarang Akolkar and Praveen Limkar from Maharashtra — have been sought by multiple agencies for over six years.
“We tried to find them but were not able to do so. Initial investigations showed that they escaped to Nepal. Sometime in 2014, they were reported to have returned,’’ said an NIA investigator who was a part of the investigations into the 2009 Goa blast plot in which two alleged Sanathan Sanstha men were killed while trying to plant a bomb to disrupt a celebration they were opposed to.
The arrest of an alleged Sanathan Sanstha member, Sameer Gaikwad, by the Maharashtra SIT shortly after the killing of Kalburgi this year raised hopes of finding the killers of the rationalists but no headway was made. Though reports indicated that the SIT had found evidence of linkages between the murders through the call detail records of SIM cards distributed by Gaikwad who owned a mobile phone store, sources in Karnataka CID said no links had emerged from the CDR analysis of data available with the Karnataka police.