Bengaluru: The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh filed its first charge sheet in the sensational case that rocked the state last year.
In a separate case, investigators sought the custody of four of the suspects arrested by Bengaluru Police for plotting to kill Mysore-based Professor Bhagwan in a similar fashion.
Two of them, including Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen who was named by KT Naveen, the key accused in the Lankesh case, hail from Karnataka. While Sujeet comes from Shimoga, Manohar Edave hails from Vijayapura in north Karnataka, the district that has been the hub of a lot of illegal weapons trade in recent times.
However, it is the other two persons that the SIT has laid its sights on regarding the Lankesh murder – Amit Degwekar, a Hindutva activist from Goa and Amol Kale, another Hindutva activist based in Pune.
Amit has a direct link with Sanatan Sanstha as he has been living at the Sanstha’s ashram in Ponda, Goa, for nearly ten years.
He has been living at the ashram since the 2009 Madgaon blast where one of his former roommates lost his life while allegedly trying to plant a bomb. He was detained but no chargesheet was filed at the end.
Amol Kale, an activist of the Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti, is said to have been a key operative of the Sanstha and affiliated groups.
The over 600 page charge sheet submitted by the SIT in a Bengaluru trial court implicates Naveen of having disappeared around the murder of Lankesh. It states that when his friends asked him about his whereabouts, he had even boasted about how he was busy with the Lankesh matter.
The chargesheet has the statements of 131 people who have either aided the police with some information or have been witnesses to certain acts like the reconnaissance measures by culprits in the Lankesh case.
The SIT observes that anyone involved in the plot to kill Prof Bhagwan could possibly have had a role in Lankesh’s murder as well.
Wednesday’s chargesheet directly charges Naveen with murder, criminal conspiracy, abetment and concealing the design or plot to commit the offence.
It also talks of how attempts were made to change the number plates on the motorbike used by the biker who killed Lankesh.
Questions have also been raised about the legal team defending Naveen Kumar. The chargesheet states that lawyers who had earlier represented Sanathan Sanstha activists in Maharashtra had come to Bengaluru to represent Naveen at a few hearings.
Interestingly, though Naveen had initially agreed to undergo forensic tests such polygraph, brain-mapping and narco-analysis, he refused to give consent when he was taken to the Gujarat laboratory for the tests.
With his backing out, the SIT is now only relying on the leads that he gave during his interrogation in March. Naveen is currently in judicial custody and thus cannot be questioned. Investigators have informed the court several times that he refused to cooperate with them.
None of the arrested persons, however, seem to have any role other than that of organisation and logistics.
The two main culprits — the sharpshooter who pulled the trigger and the one who was driving the bike on September 5, 2017 to kill Lankesh — are still absconding. Police say, there could be other culprits too, which is why they are keen on questioning the four arrested in the Prof Bhagwan case.
Though the Lankesh SIT is not investigating the alleged plot to kill Prof Bhagwan, investigators believer similarities in the two cases are striking and there could be several links, including some about those involved in both the two plots.
Similarly, since the bullets that killed Lankesh matched with those that killed Prof Kalburgi in Dharwad three years back, they feel certain headway can be made by chasing the trail of the plot to murder Prof Bhagwan.
The SIT states in its charge sheet that the plot to kill Lankesh was hatched over at a period of at least seven to eight months.