Gauri Lankesh Murder Probe Suggests Plot to Kill Another Writer

Mobile phone records of T. Naveen Kumar taken into custody last week point to involvement of more Sanatan Sanstha activists.

People hold posters in protest following Gauri Lankesh’s murder. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Three days after the Special Investigation Team probing senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh’s murder case took T. Naveen Kumar into custody, media reports say the police are now trying to locate a caller who made frequent calls to Kumar from Mangalore, using only public telephones.

Taken into custody on March 2, Kumar’s mobile phone records revealed that he had received many calls from numbers with the prefix 0824, the code for Mangalore. These calls have been traced to public booths, reported the Indian Express. The investigators are probing the possibility that the caller may have been Kumar’s “handler” – who was a link between Kumar and others believed to be involved directly and indirectly in Lankesh’s murder. Given that the caller  went to great lengths to hide his identity, further buttresses the suspicion.

According to the Indian Express report, sources suspected Kumar had made preparations to carry out another killing in January, as directed by his alleged handler. Officers believe Kumar’s “handler” could also be linked to a radical Hindu organisation.

The police are also probing whether the two were plotting to target Mysuru-based writer and rationalist K.S. Bhagwan. He was among those given police protection in Karnataka, following Lankesh’s murder.

Kumar’s friend, who reportedly visited him at his wife’s home in Birur after Lankesh’s murder, has told officials that Kumar showed him a box of bullets and told him it was meant to carry out a big operation on the lines of Lankesh’s murder.

On March 4, two special teams left Bengaluru to verify claims made by Kumar, one to Mangalore and another to a neighbouring state, reported the Times of India.

 Villagers in and around Kollegal and Chamarajanagar districts in Karnataka identified Kumar from photographs and confirmed that four men had accompanied him last year. The report said sources had credible information about the involvement of four others in the murder.

According to TOI, sources confirmed that Kumar made a confession, the details of which were not revealed.

Police said Kumar was arrested on February 19 on charges of illegally possessing five bullets. A case under the Arms Act was registered against him and he was remanded to judicial custody by a court.

Based on information provided by him earlier, police wanted to question him further and moved the court which granted eight days police custody on March 3.

Police sources said his looks matched one of the sketches of the suspect and the photograph developed from a CCTV footage obtained from Lankesh’s residence.

A  spate of murders of dissident writers, activists, rationalists and journalists between 2013 and 2017 has created an atmosphere of anxiety and fear across the country. Dissidents in every sphere of profession are finding themselves under pressure from various outfits which, directly and indirectly, are loyal to the Sangh Parivar.

Recall that Gauri Lankesh’s assassination bore similarities with the murders of the rationalist M.M. Kalburgi in Dharwar (September 2015), Left leader Govind Pansare in Kolhapur (February 2014) and Narendra Dabholkar, a well-known crusader against superstition (August 2013). All three men were gunned down by assailants. In addition to this, Ranjan Rajdev, a journalist with Hindustan, was shot dead in 2017.

Heading the paper’s bureau in Bihar’s Siwan, Rajdev, according to Hindustan Times, had written at length about a case implicating Srikant Bharti, a colleague of BJP MP Om Prakash Yadav, who was shot dead in 2014.

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In his conversations about guns and ammunition with some of his friends from Maddur, Kumar had referred to his links to the murder of Lankesh, reported Indian Express. The report also claimed that Kumar is linked to the Hindu Yuva Sena and members of the Sanatan Sanstha outfit as well as its affiliate, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti.

These are organisations that run a network across the country. They prescribe to the Sangh Parivar’s ideology mission of promoting cultural nationalism and establishing a Hindu Rashtra.

For instance, the website of the Hindu Janagruti Samiti proclaims – “Sanatan’s seekers will not rest until Hindu Rashtra is established, even though they have to face harassment!” Or how they intend to stop “malpractices” on Valentine’s Day.

Its worth recalling in this context that investigations in the Dabholkar case had resulted in the arrest of an activist of Sanatan Sastha. According to the Indian Express none of the assailants in these cases have been punished.

Fifty-five year-old Lankesh, a well known anti-establishment crusader-cum-journalist with strident anti-right wing views, was shot dead at close range by unknown assailants at her home in Bengaluru on September 5 last year.

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