Gauri Lankesh’s second death anniversary : Investigation complete, trail set to begin
Two years after journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her house here on September, the murder investigation is complete, except for a missing gun, and the trial is set to begin. Along the way, the police cracked three other murders of rationalists and helped set up a cell to monitor violent right-wing groups.
In the two years since September 5, 2017, the night Lankesh was murdered, the special investigation team tasked with cracking the case has arrested 16 persons and is on the lookout for two persons who are absconding.
The SIT didn’t just crack the case in record time, filing the chargesheet in a little over a year last November, but it was also able to unravel the shadow organisation allegedly affiliated to the Sanatan Sanstha that it believes was behind the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and scholar MM Kalburgi as well.
A senior police official said there were many things that the SIT achieved in its investigation that have marked a change, including the fact that it was able to file a charge sheet in the Kalburgi murder case. As a result, the investigation is set to be made a case study for other investigations as well, considering its success.
“When we began this investigation no other agency had really scratched beyond the surface of the Sanstha,” said a police officer involved in the investigation. “Now there is a separate cell of the Intelligence Bureau that looks at it. They took a lot of information from us,” the officer said.
All that is left now from the perspective of the investigation is to retrieve the 7.65 mm caliber country-made pistol used in Lankesh’s murder. The officer said the gun was discarded at the Vasai Creek near Mumbai. However, efforts to retrieve it were stymied first by a delay in getting permissions and then by the recent heavy monsoon rains.
The investigation employed many novel techniques in its bid to crack the case because the shadow organisation they tried to trace had made considerable changes to its approach to the murders. “This was a blind case, where we had no leads to go by,” said the officer. In the absence of such leads it had to rely on technology to show it the way.
For instance, it used call detail pattern recognition to make its second arrest in the case. It used gait analysis from CCTV footage found near Lankesh’s house to zero in on Parashuram Waghmore, the alleged shooter.
However, there are some aspects of the case that continue to trouble the SIT. “The organisation learnt from every murder it committed. For instance, the first two murders of Dabholkar and Pansare were committed in public places. Kalburgi was murdered at home, but the shooter hadn’t covered his face because of which he was identified. In Lankesh’s murder, the killers hid their faces, didn’t take mobile phones when they went near her house,” the officer said. “All this made the investigation that much tougher.
For the SIT, concerns remain despite the arrests because it found that the shadow organisation had trained 60 persons in total in carrying out murders. “Various levels of training had been provided to these people and there is always the fear that they can regroup,” said the officer.
That would be difficult, though, the officer said, because the masterminds of the organisation, Amol Kale and Amit Degwekar, had been arrested. Those arrests proved bittersweet because during Kale’s investigation, he told police officials that the organisation had already achieved its aims.
“He told us that already rationalists across the country were thinking twice before making statements and that was what they had set out to do,” the officer said. Indeed, after Lankesh’s murder many rationalists like KS Bhagwan, who was next on the hit list, have curbed their public statements, while many others think twice.
Public prosecutor S Balan, who is arguing the case, said that a decisive message would’ve have been sent if trustees of Sanatan Sanstha had been named in the chargesheet. “The investigators have done a magnificent job in building the case by showing the ideology, motivation, indoctrination, logistics etc,” he said.
“The case is quite watertight,” Balan said. “The delay in reaching trial is because the court meant to hear this matter, has many other cases as well,” he said. The accused have been booked under the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act, which is heard by the Principal Sessions Court. “That court also has administrative work, so a special court should be constituted to try these four cases specifically,” he said.