The hunt for the killer of Gauri Lankesh has reached the final stages. The police arrested 26-year-old Parashuram Wagmare who allegedly pulled the trigger. A radicle Hindutva outfit of 60 members, drawn from Hindutva outfits like Ram Sene, Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, has been implicated in the murder of not only Gauri Lankesh but also other rationalist leaders like Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar. In a boxed companion piece, Megha Pansare, daughter-in-law of late comrade Pansare, insists Hindutva groups are behind the killings of rationalists
BY ARUN DEV
At around 7 am on June 11, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) reached the doorstep of a house in Sindagi, a town in North Karnataka’s Vijayapura. After a nine-month long investigation, the men arrived at the house in search of 26-year-old Parashuram Waghmare, the man they believe pulled the trigger on activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh on the evening of September 5, 2017.
There was little resistance from Waghmare. According to a senior SIT officer, he was relieved that the inevitable was finally over. Waghmare confessed to the murder and provided the information he had about the killing.
But that is not enough for the SIT.
Three Labourers, a Journalism Student and Evidence
Even though Waghmare confessed to murdering Lankesh, a confession of crime to police is not admissible in the court of law. Since Waghmare didn’t carry a mobile phone to the scene of crime, there was no digital evidence pinning him to the crime scene. But for the SIT, fortune came in the form of three labourers and a student of journalism.
According to the SIT officers, Waghmare attempted to kill Lankesh on September 4, but she came home early, and they missed the window to shoot her before she entered her house. To avoid a repeat of such a situation, Waghmare and the motorcycle rider came much earlier the following day.
The two men waited for Lankesh at an empty property, not far away from her house. As they waited, they were spotted by three labourers from Raichur, who were working at a construction site nearby. The men, who did not have their helmets on at the time, were also spotted by a journalism student who had come to talk to the three labourers. The four also saw the attackers flee the crime scene.
While combing through the CCTV footage, police stumbled upon footage showing the four men walking on the road as the bike-borne assailants passed them by. The pillion rider on the bike was seen looking back at the four. The SIT was able to track down one of the labourers, as well as the journalism student.
They confirmed that they had seen the two men without the helmets. In an identification parade that followed, they identified Waghmare.
Apart from these two eyewitnesses, the SIT has the statement from Suresh, the man who rented out his house to one of conspirators in the murder – Praveen. It was at this house in Seegehalli, that Waghmare made several visits to Praveen, who provided logistical support for the assassination. The owner had seen Waghmare, and said that Praveen vacated the house hours after the murder.
The SIT says they have also conducted some forensic tests, the results of which will be provided as evidence against Waghmare. However, they refused to share more details.
The Diary That Led to Waghmare
So far, the SIT has six people in custody: Parashuram Waghmare, 26, the alleged gunman; Naveen Kumar, 37, the man who provided the bullets to kill Lankesh; Praveen Kumar, 37, the man who recruited Naveen and Amol Kale, 39, the chief handler of
the assassination. Also in SIT custody are Amit Degwekar, 39 and Manohar Edave, 28, the two men tasked with killing rationalist KS Bhagwan.
“Waghmare was among the six people arrested for raising a Pakistan flag in front of the tehsildar’s office to create communal tensions in Sindagi town in 2012,” an SIT officer told The Quint.
The hunt for the shooter was a wild goose chase for the SIT, but things began to fall into place following the arrest of Amol Kale, the suspected handler of the assassination plot. A diary recovered from his house, contained a few crucial details — code names and numbers, two hit-lists of targets from Karnataka and across the country, and some information regarding the assassination of veteran communist leader Govind Pansare.
From the numbers and details found in Kale’s diary, SIT tracked down Waghmare on 11 June.
The Wild Goose Chase
But getting Kale, his diary and eventually Waghmare, took several months of chasing leads. For the first two months, the SIT was clueless. The SIT had put several suspected right-wing extremists under surveillance and the breakthrough came in November 2017, when the team intercepted one phonecall. Naveen Kumar, a gunrunner, who hails from Chikmagalur, and the founder of the Hindu Yuva Sene, was heard bragging to his friend about going underground after Lankesh’s murder.
Police kept him under further surveillance and learned about another person, Praveen, who was the link between operators in Maharashtra. After two months, Naveen was arrested by the SIT. Based on the information he provided, the police laid out a trap to arrest Praveen at a wedding he was scheduled to attend in Chikkamagalur district on February 25, 2018.
But to the SIT’s dismay, a news channel flashed the story of the trap at the wedding, and Praveen escaped.
Following this, over 300 coin-booth phones were kept under surveillance by the SIT. They finally managed to arrest Praveen in May 2018. At his house, the SIT found a diary with phone numbers and code names, as well as sketches of routes to Lankesh’s house.
The information eventually led to the arrest of three others, including Amol Kale, the chief handler of the operation.
Hunt for the Rolling Weapons
The 7.65 mm country-made pistol used to kill Lankesh holds the key to unravelling the mystery around the other murders. The SIT suspects that the same weapon was used to kill MM Kalburgi and Pansare. The SIT says there are two pistols, both of which were used to fire at Pansare. One of the pistols were used to kill Lankesh and Kalburgi.
But the whereabouts of the pistols are still unknown. During his interrogation, Waghmare said that the man he rode the bike with on the day of Lankesh’s killing, handed him the weapon 15 minutes before the murder. Following the assassination, the biker travelled with him for a distance before taking the pistol away from him and riding away
. The SIT is yet to catch the biker in question.
More Arrests to be Made
Two weapons used in the three murders and hit-lists recovered from the arrested men prove the existence of a larger conspiracy, an SIT officer told The Quint. The police are on the lookout for the two men who masterminded the murders. Those engaged in planning a larger conspiracy to murder rationalists are scouting for right-wing activists to carry out the assassinations, police said. “They went out looking for potential candidates [like Waghmare] to kill rationalists,” the officer
But at present, the bigger task for the SIT is to recover the pistol used for the murder. The key, they say, is to find the biker.
Courtesy: The Quint
MASTERMINDS BEHIND PANSARE
“Hindutva organisations have formed a group of 60 people from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and other parts of the country to target activists and intellectuals who do not agree with their radical views,” Megha Pansare told.
Written by Manoj Dattatrye More
The Special Investigation Team is busy questioning Parshuram Waghmare, arrested in connection with the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh. Megha Pansare — daughter of slain senior CPI leader and rationalist Govind Pansare — tells The Indian Express that the SIT should focus its energy on nabbing the alleged assailants, Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar.
What is the latest you have heard from the Maharashtra SIT in the Gauri Lankesh murder case?
A Maharashtra SIT team had gone to Bengaluru to interrogate Parshuram Waghmare, arrested in connection with the Gauri Lankesh murder case. We are yet to hear from the SIT as to what he has revealed. So far, it has come to light that a common weapon was used in the murders of Pansare, Lankesh as well as rationalist M M Kalburgi.
One of the witnesses in the Pansare case has reportedly said he would identify Waghmare.
Yes, I have also heard that the witness is ready to identify Waghmare in an identification parade. Earlier, the witness had
identified Pawar through his photograph. Pawar and Akolkar are said to be the ones who actually shot my father as well as rationalist Narendra Dabholkar.
Has the witness seen them from close quarters?
Yes, the witness has told the SIT that Pawar and Akolkar had approached him for some recce-related work. Later, they had asked him to make a pistol for them, as the witness had a wielding and metal processing shop.
If Vinay Pawar and Sarang Akolkar are the real shooters, what do you think is the role of Virendra Tawde and Sameer Gaikwad?
Both are the masterminds. The SIT has recovered their email exchanges and phone calls, from which it becomes clear that they were the masterminds behind the operations. Gaikwad’s name came up in the first chargesheet filed in the sessions court, while Tawde’s name came up in the second chargesheet.
There is another key witness in the case?
Yes, he is a school-going child who has told the SIT that he had seen Gaikwad on the spot, when my father was shot at. As soon as he went to school, he reportedly narrated the incident to his teacher. In this case, the SIT has said Akolkar had shot at Pansare. So both Pawar and Akolkar are the actual shooters.
Why is the SIT not able to catch them?
Pawar and Akolkar’s names cropped up in 2009 Madgaon blast. Since then, both of them are absconding. In fact, Pawar has been acquitted in the case, based on a small technical issue. The problem with SIT is that the head, who is an additional Superintendent of Police, keeps changing every one year or so. In the last four to five years, there have been at least five additional SPs. Therefore, every time a head is changed, the new chief comes in and before he gets a grip on the situation, he is transferred. This goes on… and the SIT keeps sitting on the case in the process.
What is your latest demand?
Besides arrests of Pawar and Akolkar, we have been demanding that the masterminds in these cases should be exposed. The real masterminds are the Hindutva organisations. They have formed a group of 60 people from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and other parts of the country to target activists and intellectuals who do not agree with their radical views.
Courtesy: The Indian Express