The man suspected to have gunned down journalist Gauri Lankesh has told investigators that he was handed the 7.65 mm country-made pistol to kill Lankesh outside her home in Bengaluru on the day of the execution of the murder by a man suspected to be the head of a covert activities unit linked to a radical right-wing group.
Parshuram Ashok Wagmare alias Parashu alias Kohli alias Builder, who was arrested on June 11 for shooting Lankesh on September 5, 2017, has told the Karnataka Police SIT that he handled the pistol only on the day of the murder and on the previous day, when the murder plan was aborted after the journalist arrived home earlier than anticipated.
The SIT, in a remand application for police custody of Wagmare, stated that the 26-year-old, a resident of Sindhagi in Vijayapura district of Karnataka, was asked by a co-conspirator to carry out the murder of Lankesh and was handed the pistol and bullets on the day of the murder and the previous day. A short while after the murder, the gun and the remaining bullets were returned to the main planners of the crime, Wagmare said during investigations, police sources said.
After Wagmare’s arrest, the SIT probe found that the suspected shooter, who has been linked to Sri Rama Sene, was given the murder weapon only on September 4 and September 5 by Amol Kale, 37, a former convenor of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), an affiliate of the outfit Sanathan Sanstha.
Wagmare — designated to shoot Lankesh in what was probably his first such task since his induction into the covert activities group — was given the gun on September 4 when the group attempted to carry out the murder, the sources said. The plan had to be aborted after the shooter, his accomplice and a shadow unit arrived behind schedule in the vicinity of Lankesh’s home and found that she was already inside. The weapon was given again to Wagmare on September 5, when the group waited in advance for Lankesh to return home and shot down around 8.30 pm, the sources added.
Forensic analysis of bullets and cartridges from the Lankesh crime scene has found that the 7.65 mm pistol used in the murder was the same weapon used to shoot Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi in Dharwad on August 30, 2015, and leftist thinker Govind Pansare in Kohlapur on February 16, 2015. A second gun used in the Pansare killing was found to have been used to kill rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune on August 20, 2013.
During the Lankesh probe, the SIT found that former HJS convenor Amol Kale, a resident of Pune, was in custody of the gun used in the murder and that he was closely associated with making Wagmare a shooter. The SIT is yet to find the location where the weapon is hidden, sources said.
The investigations have found that Wagmare was given training in firing guns in Karnataka and Maharashtra before being chosen to carry out the Lankesh murder. Sources said the knowledge of Wagmare’s emergence as a person capable of carrying out a shooting was known only to Kale among the six persons arrested for the Lankesh murder. Kale is also reported to be a central figure to the cracking of the Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar cases.
Wagmare was identified under a code name in a diary found in the possession of Kale, sources said. He was detained after he matched the height and weight profile provided by technical experts through analysis of CCTV footage captured outside Lankesh’s home.
On Thursday, when Kale was produced in court at the end of his police custody, he alleged that he had been assaulted by the police. The court recorded the complaint before sending him and three others to judicial custody.