A secretive outfit associated with a radical Hindutva group found involved in the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru in 2017, and linked to murders of three progressive thinkers in Maharashtra and Karnataka since 2013, used a separate mobile phone to communicate with every person it recruited for extremist activities, including shootings, a Karnataka Police SIT has found during its probe into the journalist’s murder.
Following arrest of two key persons — Amol Kale, 37, and Sujeet Kumar, 38 — this year, the SIT found 20 mobile phones in a bag carried by Kale and 22 phones in shelves in the kitchen of a house in Udupi where Sujeet lived.
Each of the 42 phones was used exclusively to talk to only one individual recruited by the group, SIT sources said.
The investigations have revealed that Kale, a former co-ordinator of Sanatan Sanstha-affiliated Hindu Janajagruti Samiti in Pune, who headed the secretive group, and Sujeet, a former HJS worker in Karnataka, recruited dozens of youths over the past six to eight years.
In a statement to the SIT after his arrest — which has been placed in court with a charge sheet filed against the group for plotting to kill Kannada writer K S Bhagwan — primary recruiter for the group Sujeet outlined the manner in which radical minded youths were recruited. “Maintaining secrecy is a prime focus for our group. When we recruit any youth for our activities we never give him our mobile numbers. We speak to them only through public phone booths initially. Once we are sure that a youth is suited to be a part of our activities, we provide them with a mobile phone to be used for exclusive communication with us and designate a code name for the youth for the communication,’’ Kumar is quoted as saying in a statement placed in court.
All members of the group, including Kale, Sujeet and the recruited youths would have separate phones for their personal use, the probe has found.
According to Sujeet’s statement, a field worker of the group Manohar Edave, 29, who was arrested in May in connection with Lankesh’s murder, would initially identify youths with “right amount of Hindutva quotient” and refer them to him. According to Sujeet, he assesed “potential candidates” before referring suitable recruits to the head of the secretive outfit Amol Kale for further “testing and initiation” into the group’s activities.
Parashuram Waghmare, 26, who is accused of shooting Lankesh; Ganesh Miskin, 27, suspected to be the biker who took Waghmare to Lankesh’s home and Amit Baddi, 28, who drove the getaway van were all spotted by Edave and recruited by Sujeet and Kale, the probe has found.
Waghmare was recruited a couple of years ago because he was part of a Sri Rama Sena group arrested for hoisting Pakistan’s flag in his hometown Sindhagi to foment communal violence. Miskin and Baddi who are also linked to Sri Rama Sena were involved in communal violence and rioting in Hubli in 2012 and 2013 and were recruited over three years ago.
“I was tasked with finding youths having the mindset of our group from around Karnataka. I would study their background and tell them of our group’s ideals and would pass on their details to Sujeet and Dada (a missing suspect). Later, after evaluation Sujeet and Dada would pass on the information to Bhaisaab (Amol Kale) who would assign tasks as per the capabilities of a youth,’’ Edave has been quoted as saying in statements placed in court.
Once recruited and given exclusive phones, the recruits would become sleeper cells waiting for a call to action by their main handler Kale, SIT sources said. Both Sujeet and Edave have told the SIT, as per statements placed in court in the Bhagwan case, that they are not aware about who Kale himself was reporting to.
Once the recruits were established, Kale would travel occassionally to meet them and hand out stipends ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000. Amit Degwekar, 38, a resident of the Sanatan Sanstha ashram in Goa would travel with Kale to make these payments, probe has found.