Bengaluru: The INC government of Maharashtra in 2011 and the BJP-Shiv Sena government of the State in 2017 had sought a ban on Sanatan Sanstha, the outfit from which a nameless group sourced the alleged assassins of Gauri Lankesh and MM Kalburgi according to the police. However, both the Manmohan Singh government and the Narendra Modi government at the Centre could not find adequate evidence against the outfit, which could make a prohibition on it legally tenable.
Parashuram Waghmare, the last of the six suspects arrested in connection with the killing of journalist-actvist Gauri Lankesh, was her assassin, the SIT probing the sensational case said on Friday.
A senior official in the Special Investigation Team also said the same weapon was used to shoot at Lankesh, and rationalists Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi.
“Waghmare shot Lankesh and the forensic report has confirmed that Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Lankesh were murdered with the same weapon,” a senior officer in the SIT said under the condition of anonymity. He, however, said the weapon was yet to be traced.
[pullquote]Forensic examination can lead to a conclusion that a given weapon was used to shoot at more than one victim when the hammer of the gun is found to have left identical marks at the rear of the bullets even if the weapon is not found.[/pullquote]
The police officer said the nameless organisation, composed of people drawn from Hindu right groups, had around 60 members spread across at least five States but had no name. “We discovered that this gang has a network in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. We did not find their Uttar Pradesh connection so far,” the cop said.
The policeman said though the group recruited people from hardline Hindutva organisations like Maharashtra-based Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, which is affiliated to the Sanatan Sanstha, these outfits may not be directly responsible for the killings.
Sujith Kumar alias Praveen used to recruit people for the gang, the official said, adding it was following his interrogation that the network was busted. The SIT, he said, suspected three more people were present when Lankesh was shot dead at the entrance of her Bengaluru residence on September 5 last year.
Speculation was rife that Waghmare, whose physical appearance matched that of the man whose image was caught on the CCTV camera at Lankesh’s home on the day of the killing, was her assassin. The officer said the gang meticulously planned its operations before executing them. The entire process of reconnaissance, identifying the weaknesses of the targets and their elimination would take anywhere between six months and a year.
“The gang had almost reached the last phase of killing Prof KS Bhagawan (Kannada writer) when we nabbed them,” the officer said. The Karnataka police had uncovered the plot to kill Bhagwan recently, and it was during the interrogation of the four arrested accused that they grew suspicious about their involvement in Lankesh’s killing.
Bhagwan had often angered the right-wing outfits with his writing and utterances against Hindu gods.
The SIT had recently recovered a diary from the suspects which contained a hit list of targets. The name of film and theatre personality Girish Karnad figured in the list, the officer said, adding the Jnanpith awardee’s surveillance was in the “last phase”.
Other than Bhagawan and Karnad, former minister and littérateur BT Lalitha Naik, rationalist CS Dwarakanath and pontiff Veerabhadra Channamalla Swamy of Nidumamidi Mutt were also on the hit list. All of them have been quite vocal in criticising the Hindu right.
Kalburgi, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner and a doughty campaigner against superstition in Hinduism, was shot dead in August 2015 at his home in Karnataka’s Dharwad district.
In February the same year, Govind Pansare, a Left politician and rationalist, was shot at and fatally injured by unidentified assailants in Kolhapur in Maharashtra.