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Gauri Lankesh's Family Marks One Year Without Her as Karnataka Police Claim Murder Case is ‘Cracked’

Exactly one year ago, senior journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead on the doorstep of her Bengaluru home. Karnataka may have moved on, but time stands still for her family.

D P Satish | News18dp_satish

Updated:September 5, 2018, 1:00 PM IST
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Bengaluru: The date was September 5, 2017 and it was drizzling in Bengaluru. Journalist Gauri Lankesh, who used to edit the Gauri Lankesh Pathrike had just put that week’s edition to bed and headed home from her office at Gandhi Bazar in her car.

Gauri Lankesh, a firebrand journalist and activist, used to live alone in her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagara, a newly developed middle-class area on Mysore road. It was an uneventful day for her. Little did she know that it was going to be her last day. A fierce critic of the ‘Hindutva’ brand of politics, Lankesh had earned too many enemies. Her sympathy for the Naxals had also added to the problem.

After taking a left turn from the busy Mysore road, she entered the quiet RR Nagara and stopped her car outside her independent house to open the gate. Suddenly, a motorbike pulled over, a masked man got off, ran towards her and pulled the trigger. A wounded Lankesh rushed inside the compound to save herself and tried to open the door of her house. Even before she could do that, she was again shot twice. A 55-year-old gritty journalist died on the spot, right outside the door of her own house. Her killers sped off in the bike, leaving behind no traces. It was 8:40pm then.

The news of her dastardly killing reached the media at 8:45pm. Grief-stricken and numb from shock, friends rushed to her house in disbelief. All kinds of theories started doing the rounds immediately after the ghastly incident. Some blamed the Hindu Right-wing elements and some blamed the Naxals. A few even suspected personal issues for the murder.

Then chief minister Siddaramaiah who considered Gauri a personal friend was shaken. He immediately ordered a high-level inquiry into the killing and constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the sensational murder from all angles.

Two IPS officers with proven track records and high personal integrity —Additional Commissioner of Police BK Singh and Deputy Commissioner of Police MN Anucheth — were tasked with the tough job of finding her assassins.

They took the job seriously and started gathering all vital clues. In the first round, they eliminated the Naxal theory and focused only on Right-wing ‘Hindutva’ elements. The line of investigation drew criticism, but the investigators were undeterred.

The SIT was groping in the dark and for months, there was no clue at all. Lakhs of telephone call records were checked, hundreds of suspects investigated, but there was no headway. The top cops were frustrated. It was like searching for a needle in the haystack.

The first breakthrough came sometime in February. A local gunrunner identified as Naveen Kumar alias ‘Hotte Manja’ (or ‘obese’ Manja in Kannada) was arrested by the police in connection with illegal possession of a gun. After a weeklong sustained interrogation, he broke down and confessed to helping the killers of Gauri Lankesh. But there was a hitch. The murder was so well planned and most of the participants knew very little about the others. The operation was conducted on a need-to-know-basis.

MB Singh, N Anucheth and their team linked one person to another and over the next three months, reached the real killer who pulled the trigger. That alleged killer is Parashuram Wagmare, a 25-year-old from an obscure town called Sindhagi in Bijapura district of north Karnataka. He used to run a petty shop there and allegedly had close affiliations to radical organisations like Sanatan Sanstha and Sri Rama Sene.

He was brought to SIT office at the CID headquarters in Bengaluru for further interrogation. All along, his friends and family kept denying the charges, alleging that he was framed.

According to the police, Wagmare confessed to the murder, claiming that he was ordered by “someone” to kill Gauri Lankesh for “hurting the sentiments of Hindus”. He also gave the names of others involved in the murder plot.

The police were astonished by the precautions taken by the gang to mislead the investigating agencies. “All are semi-literate people with a limited worldview. Their exposure is also limited. But the murder was planned so well, they did not leave anything to chance and took every possible precaution to save themselves from arrest. They took a route with no CCTV cameras to reach Lankesh’s house and fled the city immediately after that. They kept a low-profile and there was absolutely nothing suspicious about their behaviour. Even we are shocked by their meticulousness,” said a police officer who is part of the SIT.

The police now claim that there is no doubt that it was Wagmare who shot Lankesh dead and that her murder was planned a year before. They are planning to file a chargesheet once they get to the mastermind of the murder most foul.

Sri Rama Sene founder Pramod Muthalik has dismissed claims that Lankesh’s killer is from his organisation. He claims that Wagmare is an RSS worker. The RSS has vehemently denies such allegations.

The investigation into Gauri Lankesh’s murder in Karnataka may also lead to logical conclusions in the killings of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in neighbouring Maharashtra. The Maharashtra police came to Bengaluru to collect information and believe the killings to be interlinked. They have already achieved some breakthrough in these cases, which were in cold storage for years.

They believe that a Pune-based engineer named Amol Kale, and Amit Digvekar masterminded the murder of Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar.

If the SIT charges stand in the court of law, Lankesh’s killers may face the gallows and she may get justice.

Lankesh was loved and loathed in equal measures, but was brave and had a lot of conviction. Lankesh lived on her own terms till the last day of her life.

Karnataka has moved on in the last one year with several other issues taking over public discourse. But, for Gauri Lankesh’s near and dear ones, time stands still and the loss is permanent.

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