At the entrance of a chemical laboratory run by rationalist Narendra Nayak in Mangaluru hangs a poster, asking supporters of those accused in the 2016 murder of RTI activist and BJP worker Vinayaka Baliga not to enter the premises to seek votes. A similar poster hangs outside the home of Baliga, where his unmarried sisters and 88-year-old father live.
Local activists and Baliga’s family have questioned the BJP over the candidature of Vedavyas Kamath, 40, from Mangalore South. Kamath is seen as a key associate of the prime accused in the murder, Naresh Shenoy, 40, who in 2014 founded the now defunct support group NaMo Brigade. While Kamath was not implicated in the murder, police had searched his home after Shenoy went into hiding for over three months. Kamath’s election affidavit does not mention any pending criminal cases.
As BJP president Amit Shah campaigned in Mangaluru, Baliga’s family has written an open letter to him over the party’s lack of empathy for the family of its worker. The family said they had earlier written to a Union minister and the Union government then sent a communication, which mentions “the names of the present Mangalore South MLA candidate Vedavyas Kamath and his associate Naresh Shenoy”, to the state home secretary to constitute a special investigation team.
“You have been running campaigns about BJP workers being murdered in Karnataka. But my brother’s name has not been mentioned anywhere in your campaign. Why is that your party has not protested about it so far despite him having been an active member of BJP RSS all his life? Why has your local MP Nalin Kumar Katil or any other office-bearer of your party not visited us even once to express condolences or support for us?” states the letter to Shah, by Anuradha Baliga and three of her sisters.
“… We four sisters of Vinayak Baliga and our 88-year-old father have been struggling for justice for our cruelly murdered brother. How will you help us? If your party comes to power in Karnataka, are you going to constitute an SIT probe into our brother’s murder?”
“The BJP has chosen a person who is a close associate of the main accused in the murder of Vinayak Baliga to contest from Mangalore South seat, and this has hurt his family,” says rationalist Narendra Nayak, who has been campaigning for justice for the family.
In a roadshow in support of Kamath Tuesday, Shah had said: “As many as 24 Hindutva activists have been killed in Karnataka in the last five years, but the government has arrested no one… When the BJP comes to power, the murderers of our activists will be hunted down even if they are in hell.”
Baliga, who was killed while visiting Venkataramana Temple, had flagged irregularities including civic law violations by powerful interests, and misappropriation of funds and properties by the temple management.
Shenoy’s name emerged after police nabbed two men, Nischith Devadiga and Vineet Poojary. The probe found they had been paid to kill Baliga by two men, who allegedly claimed it was a job for Shenoy. One of the two men who allegedly made the payment was Srikanth Moolya, 40, a former right-wing activist and an employee of Shenoy.
Shenoy was arrested in June 2016 — following a nearly three-month hunt – soon after a 770-page chargesheet was filed against him and six others. According to police, Shenoy and others conspired to kill Baliga after he questioned irregularities regarding the temple. Shenoy is said to have been a close associate of the temple authorities.