Karnataka's Police May Not Solve Lankesh's Murder But a CBI Probe Would Be Worse

Gauri Lankesh was the victim of the same ideology that claimed the lives of other rationalists. Handing over her case to a 'caged parrot' like the CBI would be dangerous.

It is essential that the apprehensions about the friends of Lankesh are addressed and the matter not be handed over to a central agency. Credit: PTI

The brutal killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh bears a stark resemblance to those of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi as they were also shot dead in cold blood by unidentified assailants. The progress in their murder investigations has hardly been encouraging, giving rise to fears that Lankesh’s probe too, may hit a cold trail. But while some have demanded that her murder probe be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), it should be remembered that this may not necessarily ensure a better investigation than what the Karnataka police could do.

Why a CBI probe may not be a good idea

Bearing in mind that a large number of Lankesh’s friends, family members and admirers believe that she was the victim of the same ideology which claimed the lives of the other three, it would not be in the interest of popular sentiment to hand over the investigation to the CBI, which reports directly to the BJP-ruled Centre, whereas the Karnataka police reports to a Congress-ruled government.

Though Lankesh’s brother Indrajit had demanded that the case be handed over to the CBI, her friends and other relatives have been perturbed by his recent statements. Some of them have also taken to Twitter to express their apprehensions regarding his demands and claims.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan tweeted that Indrajit had wanted to join the BJP:

What appears to have also bothered Lankesh’s old associates and friends is the near spontaneous demand from local state BJP leaders to transfer the probe to the CBI.

Pointing out that Indrajit had sought a CBI probe into Lankesh’s killing, state BJP leader R. Ashok was quoted as supporting a CBI probe on the ground that the state government’s investigation in the death of deputy superintendent of police M.K. Ganapathi had drawn all-round criticism and that the state police had also not been able to “make any headway with respect to the probe into the death of scholar M.M. Kalburgi, even two years after his murder.”

Indrajit, whose fondness for the BJP is all too well documented, had earlier spoken highly of its state leader and former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, going to the extent of equating him to the 12th century Kannada philosopher, statesman and social reformer Basavanna.

CBI reports directly to the BJP-ruled Centre, whereas the Karnataka police reports to a Congress-ruled government. Credit: PTI

‘Who prompted Indrajit to float Naxal angle’

But this time, Indrajit has also courted trouble for stepping further and raking up the issue of his sister’s alleged changed equation with the Naxals. While some journalists have already urged people to not pay heed to such aspersions, senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai questioned Indrajit’s change in stance over alleged death threats to his sister.

Incidentally, Indrajit’s stance on the issue of Lankesh receiving threats has also been ridiculed by his very family. While he was quoted as saying that “it is my personal opinion that Naxals were unhappy with my sister bringing many people from their cadres into the mainstream. The feeling became strong after she managed to bring Sirimane Nagaraj, a prominent Naxalite leader, into the mainstream”. Lankesh’s sister Kavita had ridiculed his claims.

Averring to Lankesh’s lifetime of work for the Naxals, Kavita had stated that Indrajit had “no clue about Naxals.”

She had gone on to add that “Gauri worked for the Naxals for years together and against the Sangh parivar” and wondered aloud as to why he “is speaking what he is speaking. He had no clue about her life, she lived with us.”

Assailants of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi still at large

It is pertinent to note that while a clear trend has emerged in the killings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi – with investigations revealing that the weapon used for killing Dabholkar and Pansare was the same – none of the assailants have been caught yet. Incidentally, the weapon used for killing Lankesh was also a similar 7.65 bore pistol.

The CBI, which is investigating the Dabholkar case, and the Maharashtra Crime Investigation Department (CID), which is probing the Pansare killing, had both concluded that Right-wing Sanatan Sanstha was behind the killing of the two rationalists. Though no progress has been made in Kalburgi’s killing by the Karnataka state police, his killing appears to be linked to the earlier two because of the weapon involved.

While all the assailants involved in these killings – three in the case of Dabholkar and two each in the case of Pansare and Kalburgi – still remain at large, only one person, an ENT specialist, Dr. Virendra Tawde, has been arrested as a conspirator in the murder of  Dabholkar so far.

From left to right: Narendra Dabholkar (murdered, 2013), Govind Pansare (murdered, 2015), M.M. Kalburgi (murdered, 2015) and Gauri Lankesh (murdered, September 5, 2017).

Courts have pulled up CBI, CID for slow investigation

The slow progress in the investigations and arrests has been repeatedly flagged by the courts. In June 2016, the Bombay high court not only pulled up the CBI for leaking the probe details and revealing the identity of the witnesses, it also hauled up the agency probing the Dabholkar case and the Maharashtra CID investigating the Pansare case for their slow pace of investigation.

Though, in the Dabholkar case, the CBI has identified the key suspects as Sarang Akolkar, Jay Prakash Hegde, Rudra Patil and Praveen Lindkar – they all remain absconding. Incidentally, the National Investigating Agency had also declared them absconders in the 2009 Goa blast case. Apart from these four, the CBI had also named Vinay Pawar as an accused in the case. Panwar and Akolkar were identified as conspirator Tawade’s associates and a reward of Rs 5 lakh was announced for any information about them. The high court had again pulled up the agency in January this year for tardy progress in the case.

The Maharashtra government had kept the Pansare case investigation with the state CID and the main accused was identified as Samir Gaikwad, an activist of the Sanathan Sanstha. While the police’s case was that he appeared similar to the person seen in a CCTV footage of the crime and had also boasted about the murder to a friend, Gaikwad was granted bail recently. While a foreign funding angle also surfaced in these two probes, the agencies submitted that Scotland Yard was not co-operating in the matter.

As for the probe in the killing of Kalburgi, the Karnataka CID has thus far only been able to conclude from the modus operandi that the accused were linked to the Dabholkar and Pansare killings as well and that the same organisation may be involved.

Gujarat DFS forensic report had linked all three murders

A forensic report, in January this year, had established that not only was the modus operandi similar in the three murders, even the weapons used were the same.

The report by the Gujarat Directorate of Forensic Sciences, which was submitted to the CBI, had claimed that while two firearms were used to kill Pansare, the same were used – but one in each crime – for gunning down Dabholkar and Kalburgi.

With all these cases linked to right-wing criminals, it is essential that the apprehensions about the friends of Lankesh too are addressed and the matter not be handed over to a central agency. For that may not help in building confidence towards the probe. As student leader Kanhaiya Kumar had said in a protest meeting over her killing organised at Press Club of India in New Delhi on September 6: “Iss daur kay andaaz niralay dekhen, faisla qatal ka qatilon kay hawalain dekhein (Unique is the style of this age, decisions on murder are left to the murderers)”.