Bengaluru: Karnataka police’s special investigation team (SIT) on Tuesday arrested a 26-year-old man who is suspected to have shot dead journalist Gauri Lankesh outside her home in Bengaluru in September last year.
The accused, Parashuram Wagmare, is a member of the right-wing group Sri Rama Sene. He was produced before a magistrate and sent to police custody for 14 days. The SIT also arrested his alleged accomplice Sunil Agasara.
According to police, Wagmare is from a small town, Sindagi, in Vijayapura district in northern Karnataka and used to run a mobile phone shop there. Sunil irons clothes for a living in Sindagi.
Although police refused to confirm, sources said Wagmare was one of the two persons present at the crime scene on September 5, 2017, when Lankesh was shot down in front of her house in a cold-blooded attack.
Going by the descriptions of the features of the shooter in the case – as given by witnesses so far and the CCTV evidence on his height, weight and other characteristics – the SIT suspects that this short stocky man was the one who pulled the trigger on Lankesh.
However, his exact role was not mentioned by the prosecutor while seeking his custody in court. The ten-minute hearing only had the SIT counsel seeking his custody for questioning. The magistrate asked the accused if he wants access to legal aid through the court, but he declined.
On September 5, 2017, two bike-borne men had accosted writer-activist Gauri Lankesh just as she returned home from her office, and shot her four times. One bullet had missed her, three others hit her, the last one proving fatal.
CCTVs in front of her home gave police some leads, but since there were no lights and the duo were both wearing helmets, it was not possible to get exact characteristics of the two attackers.
However, the police used specially-built software and the help of forensic experts to rebuild the sequence of events. Footage also showed that the two persons had conducted a reconnaissance on Lankesh’s home at least twice before the killing around 8 pm that night.
They were caught on camera going on the same street around 3 pm and once again around 7 pm. The SIT had analysed footage of cameras around the home besides traffic surveillance cameras on the route from her office to her home to zero in on more leads.
The 26-year-old is the second accused in the murder after KT Naveen Kumar, who was arrested in March on the charges of helping the killers acquire bullets for their country-made gun.
Wagmare, police said, was also accused of hoisting Pakistan’s flag on the office of Sindagi’s revenue officer along with six others to foment Hindu–Muslim tensions in the town in 2012.
The next day, he and his co-activists of the Sri Rama Sene had held protests outside the taluk office against the hoisting of such a flag and even tried to manhandle the district police superintendent.
However, the police had quickly arrested the culprits and foiled their plans. A local court had dismissed the case later.
Wagmare’s friend Rakesh told News18 that he had nothing to do with the murder and had never even been to Bengaluru in the past.
“We can’t believe that he is the real killer. Normally he used to be at Sindagi. If the police have any evidence, they should produce it before us,” he said. He claimed that Wagmare was actually picked up by the police three days ago. He even requested the Hindu society to rise against the government.
The accused’s house was locked on Tuesday and his parents were not available for any comment. The other accused, Naveen, had also led police to one Srirangapatna near Mysore, whom Naveen had tried to ‘recruit’ for the cause of ‘safeguarding Hindu dharma’.
Anil has now turned into a police witness, giving details of yet another plot to kill writer-academic Professor Bhagvan of Mysore – a plot that could not be carried out.
Anil has recorded his own confession before a magistrate court under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code – which will be admissible during the final trial against all others in the case as well.
Anil and Naveen have both talked of how they had identified Professor Bhagwan as target for the next hit-job, as they were “angry with his anti-Hindu views and insult of Hindu gods.”
Ten days back, based on their inputs, the SIT had sought and taken into custody four more persons. Among them are Sujith Kumar alias Praveen, who reportedly informed Naveen about the plot to kill Lankesh 15 days before the murder, as the person who ‘recruited’ people for the cause of Hindu dharma; Amol Kale, a Pune resident who is said to have been the main planner who “identified targets”; Amit Degvekar, a Hindutva activist who lived at the Sanatan Sanstha’s ashram in Ponda in Goa; and Manohar Edave, a resident of Vijayapura in north Karnataka.
The four persons will be in custody for questioning till June 14, while Parashuram will be in custody till the June 25.
Police sources say they are still on the look-out for at least three more co-conspirators in the case, so the investigation is not closed yet.
On Tuesday morning, many Hindu activists, including lawyers who have represented accused in terror cases in Maharashtra, came together to hold a press conference. They alleged that they were being targeted as part of a political conspiracy.
Among those who held the press conference was Mohan Gowda – an activist Naveen said was the one who put him in touch with Sujith Kumar aka Praveen, allegedly one of the main planners of the killing.