The Karnataka Police probe the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh has found that a covert group linked to a Hindutva outfit — suspected to be involved in the murder — recruited at least 60 people from across Karnataka in the last five years to carry out violent activities like stone throwing, arson and murders as part of a strategy to further their communal agenda.
Investigations in the Lankesh case by a special investigation team (SIT) has revealed that persons recruited by the group attempted to disrupt the screening of the film Padmaavat and trigger communal tension in Belgaum region of Karnataka last November apart from the Lankesh murder. At least half of the 60 members recruited for subversive activities have been identified and reported to the internal security department of Karnataka police for action, sources in the SIT said.
Six men linked to Sanatan Sanstha, its affiliate the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), and small splinter groups like Hindu Yuva Sena and Sri Rama Sena have been arrested by SIT over the last four months in connection with the September 5, 2017 murder of Lankesh. Four of the arrested men – Amol Kale (37) from Pune, Amit Degwekar (38) from Goa, Sujeet Kumar (38) from Udupi and Manohar Edave (29) from Vijayapura – were allegedly involved in the recruitment of dozens of youths in Karnataka for subversive activities, the SIT has found.
Among those recruited by the covert group from HJS and other Hindutva outfits were Parashuram Waghmare (26), a former Sri Rama Sena worker from Vijayapura, who allegedly gunned down Lankesh, and K T Naveen Kumar (37) from Maddur, who provided logistics for the murder and was chosen to play a central role in a plan to kill a writer.
The details of those recruited in Karnataka were gathered by the SIT while investigating material found in the possession of Sujeet Kumar and Amol Kale, who allegedly played pivotal roles in recruiting youths for covert activities. Kumar was allegedly responsible for most recruitments.
The recruits were allegedly trained secretly in subversive activities that included using petrol bombs to cause disruptions and a select few were also trained to use firearms, the SIT has found. Waghmare, who allegedly shot Lankesh, for instance, was identified for recruitment from the Sri Rama Sena to the covert group by local cadre of HJS in Vijayapura after he was released from prison in 2014 in connection with a 2012 case when he hoisted the Pakistan flag in Sindhagi town in Vijayapura to trigger communal disturbance.
Waghmare was identified by Sujeet Kumar as willing to take risks for Hindutva and was first recruited into the group before he was scrutinised by Kale, the suspected operations head of the covert unit, to carry out the Lankesh murder. In 2017, Waghmare was trained by Kale in using firearms near Belgaum on the Karnataka-Maharashtra border while preparing for the Lankesh murder, the SIT has found. The covert group identified potential candidates for subversive underground activities through meetings of groups like HJS, Sri Rama Sena and other splinter outfits before Sujeet Kumar interviewed them.
The recruits would then be introduced to Kale, who would decide if the recruit could be engaged with the covert activities group, the SIT has found. Hindu Yuva Sena leader Naveen Kumar, also arrested in the Lankesh case, was identified as a potential candidate for the covert group after he made a speech at an annual Sanatan Sanstha convention in Goa in June 2017. In his speech, he stated that he was willing to take up arms for the cause of Hindutva. He was later approached by Sujeet Kumar and provided logistical support for the Lankesh murder.
Sources in the SIT said the covert group was involved in similar activities in other states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. This group is a possible reincarnation of Dharma Shakti Sena, created by Hindu Janajagruti Samiti in 2008-09 to provide arms and self-defence training for Hindu youths to protect Hindu dharma, sources said.
The Dharma Shakti Sena was disbanded after the 2009 blast in Madgaon in Goa, which killed two Sanatan Sanstha activists while they were transporting a bomb to be placed at the venue of a Diwali celebration that was opposed by Sanstha as being against Hindu beliefs. Dharma Shakti Sena is suspected to have re-emerged as the unnamed covert group to avoid drawing the attention of security agencies.