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Above: Citizens in Mumbai demand arrest of the killers of journalist Gauri Lankesh who was shot outside her home in Bengaluru (file picture)

The Karnataka government has accelerated the investigation into this case and arrested various Hindutva activists who had a role to play in this dastardly killing

~By Stephen David in Bengaluru

The Karnataka Congress-JDS government is stepping up pressure in the case related to journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder which took place on September 5, 2017, and is arresting Hindutva suspects linked to it.

When the Congress government set up a special investigation team (SIT) to go after Lankesh’s killers, the brief to its head, BK Singh, a veteran with 25 years of experience, was to see if there was a pattern between the deaths of various rationalists and Lankesh. The SIT soon got cracking and among the 300 people it tracked, it picked up some pro-Hindutva activists. These included Pune-based software engineer Aman Kale and Rama Sene activist Parashuram Waghmare from Vijayapura.

The Rama Sene was quick to disown Waghmare, who is believed to have pumped three bullets into Lankesh on September 5 around 8pm after shadowing her for two hours in the tony Rajarajeshwari Nagar area, a Congress stronghold. SIT officers say that self-styled Hindutva activists like Kale had trained and brainwashed youngsters like Waghmare and others to kill their targets by pumping just a single bullet into their heads. Waghmare, in their view, wasted two bullets on the wall of her house before the third one, fired from a country-made gun, killed her on the spot.

Waghmare, who was taken into custody on June 11 and remanded for 14 days, is an unemployed Hindu activist who was also booked by the police in 2012 for hoisting a Pakistan flag in Vijayapura district to create communal tension. The police are still investigating that case after the local Sindagi police opened a rowdy sheet against him for the flag-hoisting incident. Rama Sene president Pramod Muthalik has disowned him saying that this former steel utensils salesman-turned-Hindu pracharak has nothing to do with his organisation.

A key suspect who is on the run is one Dada alias Nihal and the police hope to tie up the loose ends after a thorough interrogation of the suspects. The others include Suchith Kumar alias Praveen from Shivamogga, Kale, Amit Degwenkar from Goa and Manohar Edave from Vijayapura.

Although the SIT prepared a 650-page chargesheet containing 131 witnesses, they are yet to recover the country made 7.65 mm pistol that the police believe was used to shoot dead Dharwad­-based rationalist MM Kalburgi and Left-wing thinker Govind Pansare from Maharashtra in 2015. Dharwad, in north Karnataka, is also the home town of famous litterateur Girish Karnad, another prominent critic who is on the hit list. While it was the previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government that had first picked up a Hindu youth, T Naveen Kumar in connection with the Lankesh murder, the present regime has accelerated the investigation. Lankesh, 55, who ran a Kannada tabloid, would often be inundated with hate mail from Hindu extremists for openly criticising them in her writings and meetings and blaming the BJP-nuanced culture that enabled mob violence and hate crimes. She went after a section of right-wingers and blamed them for an anti-Dalit fear psychosis and for creating a culture that claimed lives of hapless Muslims like 16-year-old Junaid who was stabbed to death in a Mathura-bound train. Lankesh had also showed some sympathy for Maoist rebels. She was even sued for defamation by some leaders of the BJP and a court had sentenced her to six months in jail, though she was granted bail later.

On May 30, a Muslim cattle trader, Hussainabba, was found dead under mysterious circumstances near Udupi on the same day that the SIT filed its chargesheet in the Lankesh case. The police swiftly arrested Hindutva activists, including three serving policemen in connection with the death. His brother, Mohammed Ismail, complained to the police in the district saying that Hussainabba was assaulted by Bajrang Dal activists and died in front of the police. Three policemen are among 11 arrested for his death.

BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje, a close aide of state BJP president and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, said that the Karnataka police was unnecessarily arresting Hindu activists. “This government is trying to pin Gauri’s death also on a Hindu youth,” she told India Legal. “Today, if a Hindu youth leaves his home, his mother is not sure whether he will return home safe. We want Prime Minister Narendra Modi and (BJP state president) BS Yeddyurappa to bring back a sense of safety among Hindus.”

The police has moved the courts to permit them to brain-map the suspects to establish if the same gang of suspects is linked to the killings of intellectuals like MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare or even Narendra Dabholkar. An SIT officer told India Legal: “We hope to get to the bottom of the whole operation after the brain mapping and lie detector tests are permitted. The narco tests will be helpful.”

What has been revealed so far is that the suspects had made plans to kill other rationalists like KS Bhagwan, Girish Karnad and CS Dwarakanath and politician-litterateur BT Lalitha Naik and pontiff Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swamy of the Nidumamidi Mutt. Almost all of them are known for their strong views against militant forms of Hindutva like Lankesh.

Karnad, who took part in protests against her killings, has been open about his views, while Dwarkanath went as far as to ask if Lord Rama ever existed. That would have been anathema for motivated Hindutva activists like Waghmare and Kale.

The emergence of activists like Naveen Kumar and Hotte Manja who are from the Cauvery heartland and Vokkaliga belt of Mandya, the strong base of the JD(S), shows that from coastal Karnataka to the Cauvery heartland, right-wingers have taken a hold of the state. This could well portend dangerous times ahead.

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