Police are trying to locate a frequent caller to K T Naveen Kumar, a Hindu outfit member arrested in the Gauri Lankesh murder case, who would phone Kumar from the coastal Karnataka region of Mangalore using only public telephones.
The Special Investigation Team that took Kumar into custody on March 2 as part of its probe into the September 2017 killing of the journalist-activist has found from his mobile phone records that he received many calls from numbers with the prefix 0824 (the code for Mangalore), which have been traced to public booths.
Investigators are looking at the possibility of the caller, who went to great lengths to hide his identity, being Kumar’s “handler” — a link between Kumar and others believed to be involved directly and indirectly in the operation and conspiracy behind the Gauri Lankesh murder.
Police are also probing if the two were planning to target Mysuru-based writer and rationalist K S Bhagwan, who was among those given police protection in Karnataka following Gauri Lankesh’s murder. Bhagwan is outspoken in his views regarding Hindu beliefs.
Sources said that they had found that Kumar made preparations in January to carry out another killing at the behest of his “handler”, and claimed that they had been on Kumar’s trail since last month. Officers believe the alleged handler of Kumar could also be linked to a radical Hindu organisation.
The findings of the investigation against Kumar, particularly the alleged plot to target Bhagwan, strengthens the theory that Gauri Lankesh was killed for her strident criticism of rigid aspects of Hinduism.
A friend of Kumar’s who visited him at his wife’s home in Birur after the Gauri Lankesh murder has reportedly told officials that Kumar had showed him a box of bullets kept at his home and told him it was meant to carry out a big operation on the lines of the Gauri Lankesh murder.
Kumar, 37, was first arrested on February 18, on the charge of illegal possession of bullets. Gauri Lankesh, 55, was shot with a 7.65 mm country-made pistol by an unidentified man, who wore a helmet hiding his face, in front of her home.
SIT sources said that the physical profile of Kumar, who heads a unit of the Hindu Yuva Sena, which is a small outfit based in southern Karnataka, appears to match that of a man spotted scouting Gauri Lankesh’s residence on a motorcycle before her murder. Officials are investigating if he also brought the shooter (suspected to be an outsider) on pillion to her place.
The needle of suspicion pointed very early on to Hindutva groups after forensic evidence showed that Gauri Lankesh was killed with the same gun used to kill rationalists Govind Pansare in Kohlapur in Maharashtra and M M Kalburagi in Dharwad in Karnataka in 2015. Forensic evidence has also shown that a second gun used in the Pansare murder was used in the August 2013 murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune.
Investigations in the Dabholkar case by the CBI had led to the arrest of an activist of right-wing Hindutva outfit Sanatan Sanstha, which is headquartered in Goa and has supporters primarily in Maharashtra and Karnataka. However, in none of these murders have the shooters been brought to book.
Incidentally, police claim to have found several materials of the Sanatan Sanstha in Kumar’s possession, including the outfit’s books and teachings. These were declared as material seizures in a magistrate’s court where Kumar was presented on March 2.