A 27-year-old man from Hubbali, in north Karnataka, has been arrested by a Special Investigation Team of Karnataka Police for the murder of Gauri Lankesh after he was identified allegedly as the motorcyclist who brought the gunman to the journalist-activist’s residence for the murder.
The man has been identified as Ganesh Miskin, said to be working at an agarbatti-making facility.
The SIT has arrested a second man from Hubbali, Amit Baddi, 28, after he was identified allegedly as the person who drove one of two cars that was used to support the killing of Lankesh, 55, outside her residence in Bengaluru in September last year.
Baddi is said to be a goldsmith by profession.
SIT sources indicated the possibility of Miskin’s involvement in the murder of Kannada scholar Prof M M Kalburgi at his residence in Dharwad, near Hubbali, on August 30, 2015 by unidentified men. Forensic analysis has shown that Lankesh and Kalburgi were killed with the same gun.
With the two arrests on Sunday, nine people have so far been arrested in the case. All nine arrested, including the alleged shooter, Parashuram Waghmare, 26, from Vijayapura district of Karnataka, are alleged to have been part of the core group of Hindutva group who executed the murder.
Two more people were allegedly part of the execution of the crime: the driver of a second vehicle used to provide support for the murder, and a key player in planning the murder, identified as Nihal, alias Dada.
The two Hubbali men were produced in court on Monday and were remanded in police custody for 14 days.
Srisail Vadavadagi, a special public prosecutor for the SIT, told the court that the two were aware of the vehicles used to carry out the murder, as also the 7.65-mm countrymade gun used to kill Lankesh.
Senior advocate N P Amruthesh, who appeared on behalf of the arrested duo, claimed that the SIT did not follow due process while arresting them.
Miskin and Baddi were linked to fringe Hindutva groups in Hubbali region such as the Sri Rama Sena and have a police record for involvement in communal violence in the region, sources in SIT said. Court records in Hubbali show the two are among 57 people under trial in an incident of communal violence and rioting, registered in Kasabapeth police station in 2013.
According to sources, the two were recruited three years ago by Amol Kale, a former coordinator of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, to be part of a covert activities group linked to the Hindutva outfit Sanatan Sanstha. Kale had also recruited Parashuram Waghmare, a former Sri Rama Sena activist and the alleged shooter, after he was arrested for allegedly hoisting the Pakistan flag in Vijayapura in 2012 to foment communal trouble in the region, according to sources.
Like Waghmare, Miskin had been provided training in use of firearms before he was assigned to carry out assassinations, sources said.
The SIT investigations have revealed that Miskin and Baddi were among four people who were on the ground to execute the murder of Gauri Lankesh on September 5, 2017, using two cars, a motorcycle and 7.65-mm countrymade pistols. The four were lodged at a house at Kumbalgodu, around 15 km from Lankesh’s home, which was rented by a resident of Sullia in Dakshina Kannada region of Karnataka, Mohan Nayak, 50, who is linked to the Sanatan Sanstha.
The SIT arrested Mohan Nayak on July 18 after investigations showed that he allegedly rented the house in west Bengaluru to faciliate Lankesh’s murder, allegedly at the behest of Kale and others.
The SIT found that the shooter, Waghmare, arrested last month; the rider, Ganesh Miskin; the driver of a van, Amit Baddi; and a second driver of a car (who is yet to be arrested, and is identified currently only by a nickname), who supported the killers during the murder operation stayed at the house rented by Nayak for three days to execute the murder.
While Waghmare was unaware of the real identities of the people who he stayed with ahead of the murder, he was able to provide an accurate description of a physical condition suffered by Miskin, which enabled the SIT to zero in on him, SIT sources said.
The others arrested in the Lankesh murder case so far are K T Naveen Kumar, 37, a Hindu Yuva Sena activist from Maddur in south Karnataka who allied with the HJS; Sujeet Kumar, 38, a former HJS activist from Udupi; Manohar Edave, 29, a resident of Vijayapura who allegedly recruited youths for the covert group, including Miskin and Baddi; Amol Kale, 37, a former HJS coordinator from Pune; Amit Degwekar, 38, from the Sanatan Sanstha ashram in Goa; Waghmare, 26, a former Sri Rama Sena activist; and Mohan Nayak, 50, who is linked to the Sanatan Sanstha.
Gauri Lankesh was killed after four bullets were fired at her while she was opening the gate to her home after returning from work on the evening of September 5 last year. Waghmare has admitted to being the man seen on CCTV footage wearing a helmet and shooting down the journalist.