The success of the investigation into the murder of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh now hinges on Karnataka police identifying the helmet-masked assailant captured by the CCTV camera at her house. The modus operandi in Lankesh’s murder is eerily similar to that of Narendra Dabholkar (2013) in Pune, Govind Pansare (2015) in Kolhapur and M.M. Kalburgi (2015) in Dharwad.
“Two bike-borne assailants were involved in all four murders, where the pillion rider fired at the target. Cartridges found at all four sites are 7.65 mm cartridges, fired from country-made pistols,” pointed out a senior police official who probed the Kalburgi murder.
With the Karnataka government announcing a Special Investigating Team (SIT) for the probe, four different agencies, including the CBI in one of the cases, are probing the four murders. This has raised questions as to whether a co-ordinated effort will be put into the various probes.
While the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Karnataka police probing the Kalburgi case are yet to make any arrests, the CBI handling the Dabholkar case and Maharashtra SIT investigating the Govind Pansare case have made arrests and filed charge sheets. The accused in both cases are allegedly linked to Goa-based right-wing Hindu radical group Sanatan Sanstha.
The SIT probing the murder of Pansare arrested Sameer Vishnu Gaikwad from Sangli, an alleged Sanatan Sanstha activist in September 2015 and charge-sheeted him as one of the assailants. Months later the CBI, investigating the Dabholkar case, arrested an ENT doctor Dr. Veerendra Tawde from Panvel in June 2016 for the murder conspiracy. Dr. Tawde is a member of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an alleged offshoot of the Sanatan Sanstha. The SIT that interrogated Dr. Tawde filed a supplementary charge sheet in November 2016 in the Pansare case making Dr. Tawde an accused, charging him with leading the conspiracy for Pansare’s murder, thus linking the two murders to the same group.
In March 2017, the CBI announced a reward of ₹5 lakh for any information leading to the arrest of two Sanatan Sanstha activists Vinay Pawar and Sarang Akolkar, who they claim are close associates of Dr. Tawde and involved in the murder of Dabholkar. Sarang Akolkar has been on the run ever since his name cropped up in the probe into the 2009 Goa blast case and has a Red Corner notice issued against him since 2012. The CBI claims Vinay Pawar to be the assailant of Dabholkar and Sarang Akolkar, a key conspirator.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka CID probing the Kalburgi murder case has been on the hunt for Rudra Patil, also an alleged Sanatan Sanstha member and a childhood friend of Sameer Gaikwad, the prime accused in the Pansare murder case and out on bail since June 2017. Rudra Patil has also been on the run after his name cropped up in the Goa blast case.