A Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka Police, probing the September 5 murder of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh (55), on Saturday released portraits of two suspects, and said they could have been living in Bengaluru for at least seven days prior to the shooting, probably near her home.
Seeking information from public on the two, SIT chief IGP B K Singh refused to say whether members of any specific group or organisation were involved, or on the forensic similarities between the Lankesh killing and those of the murders of M M Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, and Narendra Dabholkar. He claimed that the SIT was yet to analyse the evidence from the parallel cases. “There are similarities and dissimilarities,” he said.
Asked about the role of Naxalites or Sanatan Sanstha in the murder, Singh said, “We are looking for evidence and we are not looking at any group or people.” Based on accounts provided by people who reported seeing the two suspects in the locality where Lankesh lived, and on the basis of the CCTV footage of one of them conducting a recce of her home on the day of the murder, the SIT released three portraits of the two suspects.
It estimated that the two, one the shooter and the other driving the red Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle on which they came, to be in the age group 25-35. The SIT also released fresh video footage of the suspects from around 4 pm on the day of the murder, from two cameras located near Lankesh’s house in Ideal Homes Layout in west Bengaluru.
“They were staying in Bengaluru for a minimum seven days. They may have stayed for more days but we believe they stayed in the city for a minimum of seven days. They conducted a recce of the house. They stayed in the area or some other part of Bengaluru and committed the offence,” Singh, who is heading the SIT probe, said.
About the forensic similarities between Lankesh killings and those of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar, the IGP said, “Right now we are going by our own investigation. We are not biased towards anything. We know that these are our suspects and we are hunting them. We want to find out from the public where they had stayed and if they are known to anyone. Once we find out who they are, we will be able to ascertain their identities and association.”
Soon after the SIT press conference, the Sanatan Sanstha, which is based in Goa, issued a release claiming that Singh’s statement showed it was being falsely implicated in the killing of Lankesh. “The SIT should be allowed to investigate the killing in an unbiased manner without hurling accusations on Hindu organisations,” it said.
One of the key findings in the Lankesh investigation by the SIT has been the forensic evidence that the 7.65 mm countrymade gun used to kill the journalist was the same one used to kill Kannada scholar Kalburgi in August 2015 in Dharwad — leading to the theory that the same set of people were behind both. The bullets and cartridges used in the Karnataka murders also match those used in the killing of rationalist Dabholkar in 2013 and leftist thinker Pansare in 2015, in Maharashtra.
Investigations in Maharashtra by the CBI and state SIT have suggested the involvement of members of the right-wing Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti in the murders of Dabholkar and Pansare. The Karnataka SIT has therefore been investigating the involvement of members of these organisations too.
In fact, the SIT is specifically looking at five missing members of the Sanatan Sanstha whose role the Maharashtra probe has indicated. They include Praveen Limkar, 34, from Kolhapur; Jayaprakash alias Anna, 45, from Mangaluru; Sarang Akolkar, 38, from Pune; Rudra Patil, 37, from Sangli; and Vinay Pawar, 32, from Satara. Limkar, Jayaprakash, Akolkar and Patil, who have been absconding since 2009 following their alleged involvement in a blast in Madgaon in Goa, have Interpol red corner notices against their names.
Sources in the SIT said one of the portraits developed from the crime scene data and eyewitness accounts bears a resemblance to a suspect whom the Maharashtra authorities have been looking for.
IGP Singh said the SIT had questioned 200 to 250 persons in the case and analysed nearly 74 terabytes of CCTV footage to gather evidence, identify the suspects and chart their movements. Lankesh was shot around 8 pm on September 5, when she was parking her car in the porch of her home where she lived alone, after returning from work.
Police had earlier got CCTV footage from cameras at homes and shops in the locality of Lankesh’s home, while nearby shopowners and residents had reported seeing the suspects in the area in the days leading to the crime. While three portraits were released on Saturday, the SIT said two of them were of the same person, as there were some differences in description provided by people who had seen them.
“We are investigating the case from various angles. The portraits have been developed with descriptions from people and technical inputs,” the IGP said.