Parshuram Waghmore — the 26-year-old who is linked to a Hindutva group and was arrested in connection with the shooting of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017 — used the same gun that was used to kill Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi, 77, and Leftist thinker Govind Pansare, 81, in 2015, but was not involved in shootings prior to the Lankesh murder, the Karnataka Police SIT has found.
Waghmore, who is linked to Sri Rama Sene, was arrested on June 11 by the SIT from his home in Sindhagi in Vijayapura in north Karnataka after information gleaned from four arrested men — linked to Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) — revealed the identity of Waghmore.
Since his arrest, Waghmore has admitted that he shot Lankesh at the instance of a group of men who recruited and trained him in usage of guns. On Thursday, Waghmore led investigators to a forest near Belgaum where he was allegedly trained last year in usage of firearms by Amol Kale, 37, a former convenor of HJS in preparation for the Lankesh murder.
The investigations have led the SIT to believe that the secretive Hindutva group allegedly used different shooters, but only two 7.65 mm country made pistols, to kill Lankesh, Kalburgi, Pansare and Maharashtra rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, since August 2013 in Karnataka and Maharashtra.
“Different shooters seem to have fired the same pistols in the four murders. Different assassins have been used for each of the crimes and only two or three core members seem to have been involved in the planning and execution of all the four murders,’’ police sources in Karnataka said.
Forensic analysis of the bullets and cartridges that felled Lankesh and Kalburgi has revealed that the bullets were fired “through a single country-made pistol’’. Prior analysis of bullets and cartridges at the lab from the Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar cases had shown that one of two guns used in the Pansare case was used to kill Kalburgi and a second to kill Dabholkar.
The SIT is currently looking for four suspects directly involved in the Lankesh murder, including the motorcycle rider who brought Waghmore to her doorstep on the day of the murder, and a man identified as Nihal alias Dada who is suspected to be part of the core group involved in planning the shootings since 2013.
One of the missing persons is suspected to have pulled the trigger to kill Kalburgi in his home at Dharwad in Karnataka on August 30, 2015. The missing men are also key to identifying the shooters of Pansare and his wife Uma on February 16, 2015 in Kohlapur in Maharashtra.
One of the arrested persons who has emerged as a key figure in all four murders is Pune resident Kale, who was a co-ordinator of HJS in Pimpri Chinchwad region till 2010. “The arrest of Kale is a major setback for the group,’’ SIT sources said, indicating that he played a pivotal role in the operations of the secretive group linked to Sanatan Sanstha and HJS.Diaries and documents seized from Kale have given the SIT a major handle on the secretive group.
SIT sources said that the Lankesh case probe has thrown up information about Kale’s links to Sarang Akolkar, a former Pune resident, who has been identified by the CBI as a central figure in the August 20, 2013, shooting of Dabholkar. Akolkar is among four Sanatan Sanstha men who have been missing since 2009 after they were linked to a bomb blast in Madgaon in Goa in October 2009. Interpol Red Corner Notices were issued against Akolkar and others on the request of the NIA in 2011 but they remain untraced.
“We have passed on information about the links between Kale and Akolkar,” SIT sources said.
Investigators believe that the secretive group carried out the initial shootings in 2013 and 2015 using core cadre, but with links emerging to the Sanatan Sanstha and HJS in many investigations, including the arrest of a former HJS co-ordinator Virendra Tawade, by the CBI in June 2016, for coordinating the Dabholkar murder conspiracy, they shifted to a tactic of recruiting people from smaller Hindutva groups to execute the assassination plots.
The alleged shooter in the Gauri Lankesh case – Parashuram Waghmore, 26, who is linked to the Sri Rama Sena, and a key provider of logistical support for the murder K T Naveen Kumar, 37, who is linked to a small outfit called the Hindu Yuva Sena, were recruited as part of this new strategy after careful evaluation of their Hindutva credentials by Kale and others, police sources said.
After he was identified for the role of a shooter for the Gauri Lankesh murder Waghmore was taken to Belgaum and trained over several days using air pistols, the SIT investigations have found. He fired over 500 rounds in practice before being deemed ready for the operation, sources said.
This week Waghmore was taken by the SIT back to Belgaum to identify the place where he trained.
The SIT probe in the Gauri Lankesh case has also found that the secretive group was planning to deploy a youth Anil Kumar from Mandya in Karnataka, an associate of Naveen Kumar, to gun down the writer and academic K S Bhagwan in Mysuru in 2018 – a plot that was thwarted by the SIT through the arrest of Naveen Kumar. A voluntary statement provided to the SIT by Naveen Kumar after his arrest indicates that he tried to get his friend to practice firing using air pistols.
After the arrest of Tawade in 2016 a few other changes were affected by the group in strategies as well – although the overall modus operandi remained the same, the investigations by the SIT has shown. The use of the Internet and emails for communications was halted since an email trail unearthed by the CBI linked Akolkar and Tawade to the suspected plot to kill Dabholkar.
As a result, much of the communications in the Gauri Lankesh case was done on a one to one basis and through public telephone booths, the probe has found. As many as 126 coin booths in Karnataka and Maharashtra were used by the main planners to communicate messages to accomplices in the Gauri Lankesh murder plot and the K S Bhagwan murder plan, the SIT investigation has found.
Investigations in the Gauri Lankesh murder case has so far revealed the involvement of a core group comprising of Amit Degwekar, 38, who worked as an editor in a Sanatan Sanstha publication and lived in the Sanatan ashram in Goa, Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen, 38, a former HJS activist from Karnataka, and the missing Nihal alias Dada apart from Amol Kale in the execution of the murder.
The Karnataka resident Sujeet Kumar played a role similar to that of Virendra Tawade – in the Dabholkar case – the Gauri Lankesh investigations have revealed. Sujeet Kumar, recruited and used Naveen Kumar to arrange some of the logistics for the murder and also arranged places to stay for key operatives involved in the murder including Waghmore and Kale during the planning phases.