A 27-year-old youth arrested earlier this year for an attack on a theatre screening the film Padmaavat in Belagavi in January 2018, and a 27-year-old from Hubli accused in the 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, have been identified as the two men who killed Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi in August 2015.
Praveen Prakash Chatur alias Masalawala, 27, had been arrested in April by the Belagavi police for the attack on Prakash Theatre, allegedly by a right-wing extremist group linked to the Sanatan Sanstha. He was taken into custody on Friday by an SIT probing the Kalburgi case. The SIT identified the second man involved in the killing of Kalburgi, who was shot on the doorstep of his Dharwad home, as Ganesh Miskin.
Earlier, in its November 2018 chargesheet in the Lankesh case, the Karnataka SIT had identified Miskin as the one who drove the motorcycle carrying shooter Parashuram Waghmore, 26, to Lankesh’s residence. Miskin’s links with the Kalburgi case had emerged last year, after which the Karnataka CID had arrested him.
Chatur’s arrest in the Kalburgi case comes close on the heels of the Karnataka SIT’s arrest on May 28 of Amol Kale, a key accused in the Lankesh case, for involvement in the Kalburgi murder. Chatur is the first of five persons arrested in the Kalburgi case who are not directly involved in the Lankesh murder.
In an official statement Saturday, the SIT said Chatur had been produced before a court in Dharwad. “He has been taken into custody till June 7 for further investigations.”
The SIT which probed the Lankesh murder was handed the Kalburgi probe by the Supreme Court in February 2019, on a plea by Kalburgi’s wife and following the emergence of links between the two crimes, including the forensic finding that one specific 7.65 mm countrymade gun was used to carry out the two murders. A motorcycle mechanic, Vasudev Suryavanshi, who allegedly provided a stolen motorcycle to the Lankesh murder accused is said to have provided the bike in the Dharwad murder too.
Police sources said Chatur and Miskin rode up to Kalburgi’s residence on the morning of August 30, 2015, with Chatur driving the motorcycle and Miskin opening fire. Witnesses reportedly testified to seeing the duo on the day of the murder and during the planning phase.
“The murder in Dharwad was a small operation comprising a small group. Unlike the Gauri Lankesh case which was planned very meticulously, many mistakes were made in the Dharwad case, which led to the identification of the suspects,” sources said.
During the Lankesh probe, investigators claim to have found that Chatur had attended three arms and explosives training camps in Maharashtra and Karnataka in 2014-2015, organised by the Sanatan Sanstha. At some of these camps, four ‘guest trainers’ in bomb-making were reportedly invited to teach the recruits. One of these guest trainers was identified following his arrest in Gujarat in November 2018 as Suresh Nair, a member of the right-wing Abhinav Bharat group, blamed for a series of blasts from 2006-2008, killing over 100 people.
Apart from Chatur, three other youths from Belagavi had been arrested in April for the attack on Prakash Theatre, including Sunil Maruti Patil, Appuni alias Ganesh Parashuram Remanache and Parashuram Krishna Kakatkar. They are also alleged to have attended training camps for making bombs and using guns held by the Sanatan Sanstha.
Two petrol bombs had been hurled on the premises of Prakash Theatre while people were queuing up to see Padmaavat. The Belagavi police had re-opened investigations into the attack after two men arrested in the Lankesh murder, Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanva Gondhalekar, told investigators they had carried out attacks on theatres screening the film at the behest of their leader Amol Kale, a former convenor of the Sanatan Sanstha’s Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.