Soon after the killing of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh (55) outside her house in west Bengaluru on September 5 last year, K T Naveen Kumar, an activist of a right wing group called Hindu Yuva Sena, went incommunicado. When he resurfaced late in 2017 near his hometown Maddur in southern Karnataka, some 80 km from Bengaluru, a close friend asked him why he had disappeared and not kept in touch. Kumar (37) told the friend he had gone away because of the Gauri Lankesh murder.
Kumar was arrested on February 18 in Bengaluru for possession of illegal arms — in the form of prohibited .32 or 7.65 mm bullets — by a Special Investigation Team probing the Gauri Lankesh murder after vital information emerged in the course of the illegal arms case.
Also the leader of the Maddur unit of the Hindu Yuva Sena — a rag tag group that occasionally dons the role of culture and moral police — Kumar has provided a voluntary statement to the police about his involvement in the murder. Based on the statement and other findings provided by the SIT, a magistrate’s court in Bengaluru remanded Kumar to eight days SIT custody on Friday.
During the time he was underground – specifically after the SIT released CCTV footage on October 14, 2017 of a man, built like Kumar, roaming on a motorcycle around Gauri’s home the day she was killed – Kumar lived in his wife’s house in Birur, Chikamagaluru, 250 km from Bengaluru.
Investigations have revealed Kumar invited a friend and fellow right wing Hindutva activist from his home town Maddur to join him on one occassion while he was holed up in Birur. When the friend visited him, Kumar brought out a box of live gun cartridges that he had stashed away.
When the friend asked him why he had the bullets Kumar told the friend that it was to carry out a big killing along the lines of the Gauri Lankesh murder, sources said. As many as three of Kumar’s friends have given statements to the police to indicate that he mentioned his links to the Gauri case in the aftermath of the killing.
The stocky Naveen Kumar, who is known by his nickname Hotte Manja (pot bellied Manja), is suspected to be the man riding a motorcycle – who was caught on CCTV cameras – around Gauri Lankesh’s home barely four hours before the murder.
While Kumar is in their custody, the SIT is set to recreate the scenario of him riding a motorcycle around Gauri Lankesh’s home in order to capture fresh CCTV images and compare them with those captured on September 5, 2017 to ascertain his role in the murder. The SIT is also trying to ascertain whether the man who conducted the recce was also the one who ferried the shooter to Gauri Lankesh’s doorstep on the evening of September 5, 2017 to carry out the killing.
Among several members of radical right wing groups investigated by the SIT since Gauri’s killing, Kumar is among the weakest links. Several other radical right wing members have come under the SIT’s scanner after forensic analysis of the bullets and cartridges expended from a 7.65 mm country made pistol in the Gauri Lankesh killing indicated the same gun was used to shoot down rationalists M M Kalburgi and Govind Pansare in 2015.
But Kumar is one of the few who let down his guard, police sources said. Investigators of the Gauri Lankesh case believe Kumar is far down the pecking order in the conspiracy hatched to kill the journalist.
From questioning Kumar and investigations conducted so far, the SIT believes Kumar was part of a local module in Karnataka that was used in a larger conspiracy spread across states. Kumar and some of his friends have referred to visits by people from outside Karnataka to Maddur and Bengaluru to carry out operations, sources said.
Phone records of Kumar have revealed links to people from prominent right wing organisations headquartered in western India, according to police.
On his Facebook profile Naveen Kumar claims to be a businessman. Police said he was involved in some sort of financing business. Kumar also professes to be a supporter of the concept of a Hindu Rashtra, police sources said. Pictures on social media suggest Kumar has an affinity for guns and there are pictures of him posing with guns. Many of his friends are young men from Maddur and he also has links to members of the Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.
Kumar, who founded a unit of the Hindu Yuva Sena in Maddur, is referred to as Anna (elder brother) and “Hindu Yuva Sene boss” by many of the youth he has cultivated in Maddur.
The Hindu Yuva Sena has some affiliations to the Sri Rama Sena of Pramod Muttalik. The Hindu Yuva Sena is infamous for an incident in Mangalore in March 2005 when its members attacked and tortured a Muslim man Hajabba (65) and his son Hasanabba (28) after accusing them of being engaged in cattle slaughter.