The arrest of a lawyer, Sanjiv Punalekar, and his assistant, Vikram Bhave, by the CBI in Pune on May 25 in connection with the killing of rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar, have underlined, again, the alleged links between this murder in 2013, and those of the leftist thinker Govind Pansare and Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi in 2015, and journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017.
Both Punalekar and Bhave are closely linked with the radical right-wing Sanatan Sanstha organisation. Punalekar is an office bearer of the lawyers’ body Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad, and has been representing some of the accused arrested earlier in the Dabholkar murder case. He also provides legal support to Sanatan Sanstha activists and other Hindutva activists accused in several other cases.
One of the key findings that has emerged from the investigations into the murder of Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017 — by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka Police as well as other agencies such as the CBI and the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) — is that members of a crime syndicate linked to the Sanatan Sanstha, which killed Lankesh, were also involved in the murders of Dabholkar, Pansare, and Kalburgi.
A second finding that has emerged from the investigations of multiple police agencies is that extremist right-wing groups with a history of crime are pooling resources — especially manpower — to carry out violent activities in the country.
Radical groups like the Sanatan Sanstha allegedly collaborated with members of the Abhinav Bharat group, which is accused of carrying out a series of bomb blasts in the country between 2006 and 2008, and with members of the Sri Rama Sena, which is linked to attacks on pub-going women in the coastal Karnataka region of Mangaluru in 2009, and to other extremist activities in Karnataka.
Findings from the investigations of multiple agencies including the Karnataka SIT over the last 20 months reveal that four persons linked to the Abhinav Bharat group who are accused in the Ajmer, MeccaMasjid, Samjhauta Express, and Malegaon blasts of 2006-2008 trained many Sanatan Sanstha-linked men arrested in the Gauri Lankesh case, to make bombs at camps held between 2011 and 2017.
Two of the trainers — Ramji Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange — are accused along with Sadhvi Pragya Singh, the BJP’s MP from Bhopal, in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case. A third trainer has been identified as Suresh Nair, who is accused in the Ajmer blast case. Nair was arrested in November 2018 on the basis of information generated by the SIT and the Gujarat ATS. A fourth trainer has been identified as Amit Chauhan alias Amit Hakla, who is wanted in some of the bombing cases of 2006-08.
Some of the key findings from the Gauri Lankesh investigations, which have a bearing on the other cases as well:
* The murder of Lankesh, 55, outside her front door by two men on a motorcycle bore an uncanny resemblance to the August 30, 2015 murder of Kalburgi, 77, at the doorstep of his home in Dharwad in north Karnataka.
* Nine days after the murder, the Karnataka Police SIT was provided with a significant forensic finding: the 7.65 mm countrymade gun that was used to kill Lankesh was the same one that was used to shoot Kalburgi two years previously, said a ballistics report from the state forensic lab.
* The ballistic evidence from the Kalburgi case had already linked the Kannada scholar’s murder to those of Pansare, 81, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, on February 16, 2015, and Dabholkar, 67, in Pune on August 20, 2013, and the SIT concluded that one group or gang was involved in all the three murders. And investigations in Maharashtra by the CBI in the Dabholkar case had revealed the involvement of members of the Sanatan Sanstha.
* On March 2, 2018, the SIT arrested K T Naveen Kumar, a member of the Hindu Yuva Sena group who had attended meetings of the Sanatan Sanstha’s sister concern, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, in Goa in June 2017, and who was found to have been involved in a plot to murder the Kannada writer and critic K S Bhagwan in Mysuru. The arrest of Kumar revealed links to several secretive persons from the right wing group suspected to have been involved in the Gauri Lankesh murder.
* On May 30, 2018, the SIT filed a preliminary charge sheet against K T Naveen Kumar for the murder of Lankesh. The SIT quoted Naveen Kumar, who had attended Sanatan Sanstha meetings in Karnataka and Goa, as saying that Lankesh had been killed for her “anti-Hindu views”, andher “criticism of Hindu Gods”.
* On May 31, 2018, the SIT arrested four key leaders of a crime syndicate linked to the Sanatan Sanstha and Naveen Kumar, who were moving around using fake identities and avoiding communication systems that would be detected by law enforcement agencies. The four — Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen, Amol Kale alias Bhaisaab, Amit Degwekar and Mohan Edave — were initially arrested in the plot to kill K S Bhagwan, and were later taken into custody in the Lankesh case after their involvement in the journalist’s murder emerged.
* On June 11, 2018, the SIT arrested Parashuram Waghmore, 26, the alleged shooter of Gauri Lankesh, after deciphering coded entries made in a diary belonging to Amol Kale — a former convener of the Sanatan Sanstha-linked Hindu Janajagruti Samiti — who has been identified as the brains behind the execution of the murder of Lankesh.
* In July 2018, the SIT arrested Ganesh Miskin, 27, the alleged rider of the motorcycle that took the shooter, Waghmore, to Gauri Lankesh’s residence to execute the murder. Miskin’s buddy Amit Baddi was also arrested for providing logistics for the murder and driving a getaway car. Miskin and Baddi were identified on the basis of statements given by Waghmore who stayed with the duo and on the basis of the entries in Amol Kale’s diary.
* In July 2018, the SIT arrested Rajesh Bangera, 50, a trainer of the group in the use of guns, and Mohan Nayak, 50, who rented a house close to Lankesh’s home for the killers to stay ahead of the execution of the murder. Both are linked to the Sanatan Sanstha on social media.
* The same month, the SIT arrested Suresh H L, a former Hindu Janajagruti Samiti man, who provided shelter for the Gauri Lankesh killers, and stored the guns after her murder.
* In August 2018, the SIT arrested Bharat Kurne, a man linked to the Shri Shiv Pratishtan Hindustan group, for allegedly helping the killers of Lankesh escape in a car after the murder, and for allegedly providing a three-acre vegetable farm near Belagavi for training youths in the use of guns and explosives.
* Also in August 2018, the Maharashtra ATS arrested Vaibhav Raut, Sharad Kalaskar and Sudanva Gondhalekar in a terror plot. The arrests followed clues obtained from the Karnataka Police investigation into the Gauri Lankesh murder case. The interrogation of Kalaskar revealed his, and his friend Sachin Prakashrao Andure’s, roles in the Dabholkar murder.
* In September-October 2018, the Karnataka SIT arrested Kalaskar, Gondhalekar, former Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Pangarkar, and Vasudev Suryavanshi in the Lankesh case. These four men were earlier arrested by the Maharashtra ATS for involvement in terrorist activities. Kalaskar was also arrested by the CBI for his involvement in the murder of Dabholkar.
* On November 23, 2018, the SIT filed an additional chargesheet in the Lankesh murder case, naming 18 persons, including 16 who have been arrested, and two absconding suspects, Vikas Patil alias Nihal alias Dada, and Rushikesh Deodikar alias Murali alias Shiva. The two absconding suspects are accused of playing key supporting roles.
The SIT said in the additional chargesheet that Lankesh was murdered by a group whose key members acted according to principles and guidelines outlined in a book called Kshatra Dharma Sadhana published by the Sanatan Sanstha. “The members of this organisation targeted persons who they identified to be inimical to their belief and ideology,” the SIT said. Lankesh was murdered after she was identified based on her speeches and writings as a “Durjan”, as stated in the Kshatra Dharma Sadhana of the Sanatan Sanstha, the SIT said in its official statement.
The group had members who were “indoctrinated and actively underwent arms training, shooting practice and were trained in the manufacture and use of bombs with the intention of promoting insurgency and creating fear in society,” the SIT said in its note.