THE PROBE by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka Police into the shooting of Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi, 77, at his Dharwad residence on August 30, 2015, has revealed that just days before the incident, a final training camp was allegedly held for the suspected killers on the rubber estate of a businessman from the Mangalore region.
A key suspect in the murder, Praveen Prakash Chatur, 27, who was arrested by the SIT on May 31 this year, took police to a rubber plantation at Dharamsthala in Dakshina Kannada district last month and identified it as the place where he was allegedly trained before the murder.
Police have identified Chatur as the rider of the motorcycle that brought the alleged shooter, Ganesh Miskin, 27, to the home of Kalburgi.
The estate has been identified as belonging to a Mangalore businessman, K Ananth Kamath, who is known to be associated with the radical Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), police sources said.
The name of Kamath, who is the owner-managing director of Mangalore-based KMK Group with interests in marketing, real estate and agriculture, had figured earlier in the SIT probe of the September 5, 2017, murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Sources said an arrested suspect had indicated that Kamath allegedly provided vehicles used for a recce of the journalist’s residence. However, Kamath was questioned and released after the SIT did not find any incriminating evidence against him in that case.
“The recce of Gauri Lankesh done in June 2017 had not gone well. We decided to reassess the situation. At the end of June 2017, Amol Kale (identified as a key planner), Dada (a missing suspect), Ananth Kamath and I travelled in Kamath’s Innova from Mangalore to Bangalore. We met Manohar Edave (another suspect) in Bangalore. Later Kale took us near the Mysore Road. Ananth Kamath was made to wait in the car while Kale, Dada and Manohar went near Gauri Lankesh’s house and examined the recce report,’’ claims Amit Degwekar, a Sanstha member who was arrested in the Gauri Lankesh murder, in an unsigned statement in the chargesheet.
Kamath is known to be closely associated with the Sanstha and the HJS. He is described as a “devout Hindu” in reports of HJS events from the Mangalore area on the outfit’s website.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Kamath said: “I have no information about the estate being used for such things. If I knew I would not allow it. I have not received information about any investigations on the property. The estate has been given on lease to a group from Kerala.” The rubber estate is located about one hour away from Dharamsthala, he said.
The website of the KMK Group shows that it owns the “Mahamaya Rubber Plantation — a thriving 25 acre property, situated about 50 km from Mangalore en route to Dharmasthala”.
Several persons arrested in the Gauri Lankesh case have in statements, which are a part of the chargesheet, described attending a camp at a rubber plantation near Pilathbetta in the Dharamsthala region in August 2015.
“In 2015, in the month of August, a training camp was organized at a rubber plantation at Pilathbetta near Mangalore. Four of us from Belagavi went to Dharamsthala. Amol Kale, Mithun (alias Ganesh Miskin, the alleged shooter in the Kalburgi case), Govinda, Mechanic, Sharad Kalaskar, two Bengali speaking men were present at the camp. We travelled for an hour in a vehicle from Dharamsthala to get to the farm. There were two big godowns and a rubber plantation at the estate,’’ claims a witness in the Gauri Lankesh case in a statement that is part of the chargesheet.
“On the second day at the farm, we were provided air pistols and trained. We were asked to aim at the rubber trees and fire the guns by Kale and Govinda,” says the statement.
“Guest trainers” in bomb making — identified as “a Bangali person’’ and “Prathap Hazra” — were present in Dharamsthala, according to statements given to the SIT by several persons who were at the three-day training camp.
One of the trainers is suspected to be a missing individual from the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid and Malegaon blast cases from the 2006-08 period.
After arresting Chatur in the Kalburgi case, the SIT took him to the site of the camp in the hope of finding bullets or cartridges but failed to find any such material, sources said.
However, the site where the Sanstha members allegedly trained was found to belong to Kamath, and police would be assessing his suspected role in the training, sources said.
Extremist elements from the Sanstha and other similar groups have been accused of murdering Kalburgi, Maharashtra rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, leftist thinker Govind Pansare and journalist Gauri Lankesh between 2013 and 2017.