The Karnataka Police have arrested Parshuram Ashok Wagmare, the suspected shooter in the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was gunned down outside her house in Bengaluru in September last year. Wagmare, police claimed, has a record of communal crimes and is allegedly affiliated to radical right-wing groups.
From the Sindhagi region of Vijayapura district, Wagmare (26) alias Parashu, alias Kohli, alias Builder, worked in his uncle’s utensils store in Sindhagi and was produced in a Bengaluru court Tuesday. A Special Investigation Team, probing the murder, submitted a statement from Wagmare admitting his involvement in the shooting of Gauri Lankesh.
Sources said Wagmare has a criminal record in Karnataka and was one of six men associated with the radical right-wing Sri Rama Sena arrested for hoisting the Pakistan flag in Sindhagi town in 2012 in an attempt to foment communal trouble.
“In connection with the Gauri Lankesh case, the SIT has arrested one Parshuram Wagmare, son of Ashok Wagmare, aged 26 years, from Sindhagi. He was produced before the 3rd ACMM Court and has been taken into 14 days police custody for further questioning. His role in the conspiracy and other details will be revealed later as it will affect the investigation at this stage,” said the SIT chief investigating officer M N Anucheth in an official statement.
Wagmare was arrested at his home in Sindhagi after investigations in the aftermath of the arrest of four men linked to the radical right-wing group Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) on May 31.
Wagmare’s name emerged from documents seized from the four suspects Amit Kale (37), a key operative in a covert activities unit of the Sanatan Sanstha and a former convenor of the HJS in Pune, Amit Degwekar (38), a resident of the Sanatan Sanstha ashram in Ponda in Goa, Manohar Edave (29), an alleged recruiter of radical youths from Vijayapura and Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen (37), a former HJS activist from Udupi involved in underground activities in recent years.
Wagmare was identified under a code name in a diary found in Kale’s possession, which helped police locate the suspect, sources said. Wagmare was eventually detained by the SIT after he matched the height and weight profile of the man who shot Gauri provided by technical experts who analysed CCTV footage captured outside her home.
Wagmare stands at around five feet and is stockily built like the suspect seen in the surveillance footage walking up to shoot Gauri Lankesh while she was opening the gate to her house on September 5, 2017, sources said.
The SIT in its first chargesheet filed in the murder case on May 30, against the first arrested suspect K T Naveen Kumar (37), an activist of the Hindu Yuva Sena and associated with the Sanatan Sanstha, who is accused of providing logistical support to the killers. Kumar has allegedly stated that Gauri Lankesh was killed for making statements against Hindus and Hindu Gods.
Wagmare was recruited for the crime by Amol Kale, Manohar Edave and Sujeet Kumar – from smaller radical right-wing groups with links to the Sanatan Sanstha and HJS – just as Naveen Kumar was recruited, sources said.
Wagmare is alleged to have stayed at a house in Bengaluru that was allegedly provided by Sujeet Kumar for nearly three months in the run-up to the murder. A second house was also used as a base for a shorter duration, sources said. The discovery of one of these houses also provided the SIT with key information that led to the identification of Wagmare as a prime suspect in the plot to kill Gauri Lankesh.
Police said Wagmare was trained to use firearms at different places before the murder. He is the seventh person named as an accused in the murder case so far. Another accused Nihal alias Dada is yet to be arrested.
The SIT, while seeking the custody of Wagmare for 14 days, stated that it also needed to find the man who brought the shooter to Gauri Lankesh’s home on a motorcycle on the day of the murder. Sources said Edave is suspected to have carried out a recce of Gauri Lankesh’s house on a motorcycle a few hours before she was murdered.
Before Wagmare’s arrest was announced Tuesday, Pramod Muttalik, the Sree Rama Sena’s founder and chief activist addressed a press conference with HJS leaders and claimed that two youths from Sindhagi who were known to him had gone missing. He also denied links between Wagmare and the Sree Rama Sena. “A lot of people are involved in our activities but these are not members of the group,’’ he said.
According to SIT forensic reports, Gauri Lankesh and Kannada scholar and researcher M M Kalburgi were killed with the same 7.65 mm country gun. Kalburgi (77) was killed in the northern Karnataka town of Dharwad on August 30, 2015.
Ballistic evidence from the Lankesh and Kalburgi cases also suggest that the 7.65 mm country-made gun used in the two murders was also used in the shooting of the Leftist thinker Govind Pansare (81) in Kolhapur in Maharashtra on February 16, 2015. Ballistic evidence also indicates that one of the two guns used in the Pansare murder was used to kill rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, (69) at Pune on August 20, 2013.