AN INTERCEPTED phone conversation between two relatives of a key accused in the 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru provided a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Karnataka Police with vital evidence of his involvement in another high-profile case — the 2015 killing of Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi.
According to court records, soon after the July 2018 arrest of Ganesh Miskin, 28, the rider of the motorcycle that took Lankesh’s alleged killer Parshuram Waghmore to her home, two close relatives of Miskin discussed the arrest on phone.
One of the relatives, Ravi Miskin, allegedly told an “uncle” that his elder brother Ganesh was involved in the two murders, records show. The transcript of the conversation has been placed as evidence along with the chargesheet in the Kalburgi case to indicate Miskin’s involvement in both cases.
How 190-sec intercept helped police join dots in Lankesh, Kalburgi killings took place at 11:51 am on July 22, 2018, the brother allegedly said that Miskin and his associates were involved “in one murder over there and another murder”, according to the transcript.
“So they are involved in two murders, is it?” asked the “uncle” in response to which the brother allegedly replied, “yes”, the transcript shows.
The call took place on the day the SIT picked up Miskin and his friend Amit Baddi in Hubli for the Lankesh murder, according to records. As part of the evidence in the Kalburgi case, the SIT obtained and compared voice samples of the two relatives of Miskin to provide technical confirmation of the legally intercepted phone conversation.
A ballistics report from the Karnataka State Forensic Science Laboratory — days after the murder of Lankesh, 55, on September 5, 2017 — stated that the murder was linked to the killing of Kalburgi, 77, at his home in Dharwad on August 30, 2015. Yet, it was the intercepted conversation that provided the SIT with new evidence of the linkages.
The SIT’s investigations in the Lankesh and Kalburgi cases resulted in the filing of chargesheets against a group of activists linked to Sanatan Sanstha, a radical Hindutva group. The start of the trial process in both cases has been delayed by the Covid crisis that began in March this year.
As many as 18 persons were named by the SIT in the Lankesh murder, including Miskin and others linked to the Sanstha and other radical groups, in a chargesheet filed in November 2018.
Six persons have been accused in the Kalburgi case, which was taken up for investigation by the SIT in 2019 on the orders of the Supreme Court following a plea by the scholar’s widow Umadevi.
A chargesheet filed in August 2019 names Miskin as the alleged shooter and Praveen Prakash Chatur, 27, a Belagavi resident, as the rider of the motorcycle that took him to Kalburgi’s home.
According to the SIT, Amol Kale, a key leader of youths linked to the Sanstha, plotted and executed the murder of Kalburgi in August 2015. The youths were allegedly inspired by a book called ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’, published by the Sanstha, which calls for the killing of “Hindu infidels”, the SIT found.
“Between January and May 2015, Amol Kale, Ganesh Miskin and Praveen Chatur met several times near the Indira Gandhi glasshouse, Hubli, and planned the assassination of Dr M M Kalburgi. Ganesh Miskin was tasked to shoot and kill Dr Kalburgi. Praveen Chatur was tasked with riding a bike and taking Miskin to and from Dr Kalburgi’s residence,” the SIT said.
The SIT also found that a training camp was held for the alleged killers of Kalburgi, and others, at a rubber plantation near Dharmasthala in the Dakshina Kannada region in early August 2015 with two “guest trainers”.
According to the chargesheet, Kalburgi was killed allegedly by youths affiliated to the Sanstha over a June 9, 2014 speech made in Bengaluru at a debate on a law to ban superstitious practices in Karnataka. “In his keynote speech, he (Kalburgi) referenced a passage from a book written by Dr U R Ananthamurthy and made certain observations,” the SIT said.
“On the basis of this speech, the accused persons identified Dr M M Kalburgi as a “Durjan” (evil person) as preached in the Kshatra Dharma Sadhana…They all jointly hatched a conspiracy to murder Dr M M Kalburgi in furtherance of the achievement of their goals and executed it,” the SIT said after filing its chargesheet.
In a collection of essays published in 1996, the late Jnanpith award-winning writer Ananthamurthy had mentioned urinating on idols as a child and this was quoted by the scholar. But Kalburgi’s statements in the debate were perceived by the accused as his own remarks.
The investigations in the Lankesh and Kalburgi cases also led to the unravelling of the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, in Pune on August 20, 2013, and Leftist thinker Govind Pansare, 81, in Kolhapur on February 16, 2015.
Ballistic evidence showed that the four murders were carried out by two 7.65 mm guns used by youths affiliated to the radical group. It also unravelled a larger terror plot to carry out attacks on writers, rationalists and film makers and others for work deemed as being opposed to Hindutva.
Kale, one of the main accused in the Lankesh and Kalburgi cases, has now approached the Karnataka High Court for release citing the Covid crisis and crowding of jails. Based on the plea, the court has asked state authorities to report on the number of cases in prisons, the facilities available for treatment and whether adequate measures are in place to prevent the spread.
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