The Hindutva extremist arrested in connection with the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh attended at least five different meetings of the Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), last year in Bengaluru and Maddur in Karnataka, and Ponda in Goa, investigations have found.
Unidentified assailants on a motorcycle shot Lankesh dead outside her Bengaluru home on September 5, 2017. On March 2 this year, the Special Investigation Team probing the murder arrested 37-year-old K T Naveen Kumar, who belongs to Maddur in south Karnataka’s Mandya district, after investigations revealed that he played a crucial role in the planning and execution of the murder by spying on Lankesh and guiding her killers.
To substantiate Naveen Kumar’s role in the murder, the SIT had presented to a magistrate’s court in Bengaluru a voluntary statement given by him ahead of his arrest. The SIT is currently investigating the larger conspiracy behind the killing, and Naveen Kumar’s association with the Sanatan Sanstha and the HJS. Rogue elements from these groups have been linked to the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, and the Leftist thinker Govind Pansare, in Maharashtra in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
A digital trail on social media and the Internet shows Naveen Kumar attended at least five meetings of various sizes organised by the HJS and Sanatan Sanstha at various places in 2017 to discuss, among other things, the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra in India.
Kumar, who was the Maddur president of the Hindu Yuva Sena, was present at the HJS’s first-ever meeting in that town in March 2017. Kumar gathered over 40 youths for the meeting, which was held on the rooftop of a building in Maddur, and was addressed by the HJS’s Karnataka spokesperson, Mohan Gowda.
Digital evidence also suggests that Kumar participated in the sixth Hindu adhiveshan organised by the Sanatan Sanstha and HJS in Ponda — where the Sanstha is headquartered — in June 2017. At the three-day meeting, which was reportedly attended by nearly 550 people, issues like the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra were discussed at length.
Investigators also believe Kumar participated in an HJS protest that Mohan Gowda led in Bengaluru’s Freedom Park in July 2017.
The SIT is trying to establish whether Kumar was drawn into the conspiracy to murder Lankesh at any of these meetings. Investigations have found that he was present in Bengaluru in the days before Lankesh was shot.
Although Kumar came in contact with Lankesh’s killers and the plotters of the crime, he has claimed he is unaware of their identities or whereabouts, and has described them as “outsiders”. Kumar is alleged to have played a key role himself, and is believed to have fled Bengaluru on the day of the murder to create an alibi.
Kumar has, in fact, guided investigators to Lankesh’s home by a back route he has claimed to have used while watching her activities and movements in the days before the murder — suggesting that he was aware of the location of her home in Rajarajeswhari Nagar in west Bengaluru, and probably even her workplace.
In order to understand the depth of Kumar’s knowledge of the conspiracy and the identities of the conspirators, the SIT has decided to subject him to a narcoanalysis test at a lab in Gujarat. The SIT has been given clearance to conduct the test after Kumar gave his consent in a magistrate’s court in Bengaluru two weeks ago.
After lying low immediately after the murder, Naveen Kumar began associating publicly with HJS activities again around November, according to the digital trail. As the leader of the Hindu Yuva Sena, he organised a dharma sabha of the HJS at a wedding hall in Maddur on November 19, 2017. The HJS’s Karnataka coordinator Guruprasad Gowda and the Sanatan Sanstha’s Suma Mangesh were among those who attended.
The digital trail of Kumar’s association with the HJS also shows that he attended a regional Hindu adhiveshan held in Bengaluru in December 2017, and a group discussion on establishing a Hindu Rashtra at the conference.
“He is known to us. He attended our adhiveshan in Goa last year on our invitation. He has attended dharma sabhas in Bengaluru and a programme on Bhagat Singh. He was also part of a programme held in his home town Maddur,” Mohan Gowda said.
Kumar’s association with the HJS is believed to be older than the first meeting of the group that he organised in Maddur in March 2017. The SIT is likely to question leaders of the HJS and Sanatan Sanstha who were part of the meetings where Kumar was present. Following Kumar’s arrest, the SIT named one “Praveen” as the second accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder.
The journalist-activist who strongly opposed radical Hindutva through her writing and activism is believed to have been targeted by radical Hindutva groups for some of her work. Naveen Kumar was picked up under the jurisdiction of the Upparpet police station in west Bengaluru on February 18 based on a complaint filed by a Crime Branch official saying he was found carrying prohibited bullets at the city bus stand. Investigations in the Upparpet case showed that Kumar, during conversations about guns and ammunition with some of his friends from Maddur, had alluded to his links to the murder of Gauri Lankesh.