A SUSPECT linked to a radical Hindu group arrested in Jharkhand earlier this month for involvement in the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, 55, in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017 played a central role in destroying guns used by the group in the killing of the journalist and three others between 2013 and 2015, according to police investigations.
A Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka Police, which is probing the Lankesh murder case, produced Rushikesh Deodikar alias Murali alias Shiva, 41 — who was arrested in Dhanbad — in a Bengaluru court on January 13 and obtained his custody for 15 days under provisions of the Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act, 2000.
According to the SIT investigations, Deodikar, a former Aurangabad co-ordinator of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an affiliate of the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, was instrumental in ordering the destruction of the guns used in the murder of Lankesh and others soon after the arrest of key members of the group in May 2018.
The SIT has identified Parashuram Waghmore, 26, from Bijapur, and Ganesh Miskin, 28, from Huballi in Karnataka, as the persons who shot Lankesh outside her home. They were recruited and trained by a radical outfit acting as per instructions of a manifesto published by the right-wing Sanatan Sanstha group calling for punishment of people perceived as anti-Hindu.
Early in its investigations into the Lankesh murder case, the SIT found that a 7.65 mm country-made pistol that was used to gun down Lankesh was also used to kill Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi, 77, at his home in Dharwad on August 30, 2015. The same gun was also found to have been used to kill Leftist thinker Govind Pansare, 81, in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur on February 16, 2015 while a second gun used in the Pansare killing was found to match with a gun used to shoot rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, in Pune on August 20, 2013.
“The forensic ballistic analysis established that the pistol used to murder Ms. Lankesh was the same pistol used to murder Prof. M M Kalburgi in Dharwad, Karnataka and Govind Pansare in Kolhapur, Maharashtra,’’ the SIT stated in its 9,000-page chargesheet filed in November 2018.
In the course of statements given to investigating agencies, Sharad Kalaskar, 26, an early recruit in the Sanatan Sanstha-linked group, who is accused by the CBI of carrying out the Dabholkar shooting, told investigators that Murali alias Rushikesh Deodikar summoned him to Aurangabad in June 2018 — soon after key suspects were arrested by the SIT — and asked him to meet Sanjeev Punalekar, a Mumbai-based advocate linked to the Sanstha, regarding the group’s next course of action.
According to Kalaskar, a plan was drawn up by Murali for him to be taken to meet the advocate through a member of the outfit — Vaibhav Raut — in Mumbai.
Kalaskar established contact with Raut after dialling a number provided in a job advertisement published in the Sanatan Prabhat, a Sanatan Sanstha publication. In the meeting with Punalekar in June-July 2018, the advocate — who has been arrested by the CBI in the Dabholkar case — is alleged to have directed Kalaskar to destroy guns in the possession of Murali that were used for murders.
According to Kalaskar, he subsequently met Deodikar in Pune along with two others and discussed the plans to destroy the guns used in killings carried out by the group. A plan was allegedly devised by Deodikar to destroy only the guns used in shootings and to keep weapons that were not used in the crimes, Kalaskar has said in statements attached with the SIT chargesheet.
According to Kalaskar, he identified four guns that were taken by the gang for killings and dismantled them and along with Vaibhav Raut dumped them in a creek on the Mumbai-Nasik highway. Following the arrest of Kalaskar, the SIT, CBI and other agencies have made attempts to search the creek — with orders from courts — to find the guns.
On January 13, when Deodikar was produced in court, the SIT sought his custody to take him to Pune, Satara, Aurangabad and Belagavi where aspects of the Lankesh murder were plotted. SIT sources said Deodikar was a key figure in the Maharashtra operations of the right-wing extremist group involved in the murder of the scribe.
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