Investigations into the shooting of journalist Gauri Lankesh, 55, outside her home in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017, has thrown up more indications of links to the Goa, Ponda-based radical Hindutva group Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), following the arrest of six suspects in recent days, reports the Indian Express.
A Karnataka Police SIT, which is probing the case, has found that the alleged shooter, Parshuram Waghmare, 26, was called to Bengaluru in July 2017 and housed in a remote home on the outskirts of Bengaluru by a key planner of the murder, Amol Kale, 37, a Pune resident, and former HJS convenor.
The house where Waghmare was kept was rented by a man Amit Degwekar associated with the Sanatan Sanstha and let out for a few days to “friends’’ who have emerged as the main suspects in the murder plot, the SIT has found.
The house, 20 km from Lankesh’s home, was used in July 2017 as a base by Waghmare and Kale — who are among six persons linked to Sanatan Sanstha and HJS who have been arrested for the murder — to survey the journalist’s home and prepare plans to kill her, the SIT has found.
The house was originally rented by building contractor Suresh Kumar for his family – wife and two children — around June 2017, but for around 10 days in July 2017 “the inhabitants of the house went away and the suspects lived there”, SIT sources told Indian Express.
The SIT stumbled upon the house after finding entries for locations, identities and contact numbers in diaries belonging to two arrested suspects —- Kale and Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen, 38, a former HJS activist from Karnataka – after their arrest in May. The SIT has found that the contractor let out his home on “terms of friendship” after he was requested to do so by Sujeet.
The SIT confronted Suresh and he confessed to letting out his rented home to friends while his family was away for 10 days, but stated that he was not directly involved in the murder plot.
“Police came a few days ago and took Suresh away. The police asked us if we had seen any strangers living in the house but we had not seen anybody. They are a very decent family. I cannot believe they could be involved in any crime,’’ said Jagadish, an autodriver who lives next door.
“We did not expect trouble because they were a family,’’ said the sister of the landlord, who lives next door and collects rent from the tenants of the building.
Suresh has now gone incommunicado. “They said they were going for a wedding,’’ the neighbour Jagadish said.
Suresh has provided a voluntary statement before a magistrate’s court stating that he provided shelter at his home for the suspects for several days after he was requested to do so by his friend Sujeet.
“We are treating him as a witness, and will review the situation if evidence emerges regarding his involvement in the murder plot,’’ an SIT official said, indicating that Suresh was acquainted with Sujeet through their association with Sanatan Sanstha.
Suresh is closely associated with Sanatan Sanstha and HJS along with many family members, including one family member who is a full time activist, police and SIT sources said.
“The suspect (Waghmare) was called to Bengaluru by other suspects and housed at a remote location by other suspects and together they watched the daily routine of the victim Gauri Lankesh and carried out recces on 3-4 occasions,’’ the SIT said in a remand application filed for the custody of Waghmare after his arrest on June 12.
The suspects are believed to have used two separate places as shelters in the planning phase and execution phase of the murder of Lankesh. After the house at Seegehalli Gate on Magadi Road was chosen for the planning phase, Kale and Waghmare traveled regularly to the location of Lankesh’s home by using routes not tracked by police cameras.
The suspects used at least one other shelter for the execution of the crime, SIT sources told Indian Express.
The Sanatan Sanstha has denied involvement in the Lankesh killing, claiming it had no idea what its members were up to.