Investigations have revealed that the “mechanics of the crime’’ in the September 5 killing of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, 55, by an unidentified gunman is identical to that of the August 30, 2015 murder of Kannada literary scholar M M Kalburgi in Dharwad in north Karnataka.
More than one official familiar with the probe into Lankesh’s killing said that although the investigation remained open in terms of tracking down the killers — and formal forensics and ballistics reports are awaited — there has been a “significant finding” that suggests a link between the killings of Kalburgi and Lankesh.
While an official declined to give details, he said that this finding goes beyond just the speculation so far that both the deaths involved a similar type of weapon.
In fact, Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy had said on Saturday that the SIT set up to probe the murder had obtained important clues. Senior police sources have, over the last couple of days, said that they are “very sure” that the killings in Karnataka are linked to each other along with two murders in Maharashtra.
Scholar and rationalist Kalburgi was shot dead at his home at 8.40 am by two unidentified persons who drove up on a motorcycle. The assailants knocked on the door of the home of the 77-year-old Sahitya Akademi Award winner and shot him on the doorstep with two bullets from a 7.65 mm countrymade pistol.
Lankesh was shot dead in the front yard of her home at 8 pm on September 5 by one of two persons who came on a motorcycle and fired four bullets from a 7.65 mm countrymade pistol while she was opening the gates to her home.
Investigations in the Kalburgi murder case by the Karnataka Criminal Investigation Department had revealed that the 7.65 mm pistol used to kill the rationalist was the same one that was used to murder 81-year-old Maharashtra rationalist and Leftist thinker Govind Pansare in Kolhapur on February 16, 2015 by two unidentified men.
The forensic analysis had also revealed that one of the two guns used to shoot down Pansare in 2015 had also been used to kill Maharashtra rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, in Pune on August 20, 2013 by a pair of unidentified men.
One part of the investigation in the murder of Gauri Lankesh over the past week has focused on the crime scene evidence and the mechanics of the crime like the bullets and gun used. Investigations by the CBI into the Dabholkar case and a Maharashtra SIT probe into the murder of Pansare found links to a radical right wing outfit called the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), affiliated to the Sanatan Sanstha, but the actual shooters have remained at large.
The findings from the Kalburgi and the two Maharashtra cases suggested that the killers were in possession of two guns they used to carry out the assassinations.
“The key difference between the murder of Gauri Lankesh and the other killings is the fact that she was killed at night while the other murders occurred in the morning. This could be because Gauri Lankesh did not venture out in the morning but returned late evening,’’ sources said.
The SIT is pursuing multiple angles to zero in on the perpetrators. Activists of the HJS and Sanatan Sanstha based in Karnataka are among those under the scanner along with a local unit of the outfit. “The weapon used to commit the crime has been a key focus of the investigation and efforts are on to find out how and where it was procured,’’ an official said.
The investigation is also looking at whether the killing involved hired killers or members of a group. Cell records, CCTV footage, history of stories published in the Gauri Lankesh Patrike, data from hotels and lodges in Bengaluru in the period preceding the murder and information from prisons about recently released convicts are all being probed, sources said.