Praveen Chatur, listed as witness in the Gauri Lankesh murder case, is now allegedly the biker who ferried the killer to scholar M.M. Kalburgi’s residence on the fateful day. The 27-year-old resident of Belagavi was arrested by SIT recently.
Chatur was arrested earlier this year for his role in a petrol bomb attack on a theatre screening Padmavat in Belagavi in January 2018.
The interrogation of Amol Kale, the alleged kingpin of the gang that killed four rationalists and writers including Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, gave the SIT sleuths a key lead on the identity of the biker, pointing them towards Chatur. This was later confirmed by his close resemblance to eyewitness accounts.
Match with sketch
“A sketch prepared by inputs from an eyewitness resembles Chatur and the witness was positive about the identity,” a senior official said. Though earlier Amit Baddi from Hubballi, a friend of the alleged shooter Ganesh Myskin, was suspected to be the biker, he did not resemble eyewitness descriptions. This pushed the SIT to reprobe the issue.
“Chatur’s name first came up during the interrogation of Sharad Kalaskar, who was based out of Belagavi from 2015-17, and Bharat Kurne, a resident of Belagavi. He along with three others were questioned and since there was no direct role in the murder of Gauri Lankesh, he was made a witness,” explained a senior official.
In his statement, Chatur recounted how he was recruited into the “unnamed gang” and attended at least two training camps in Jalna, Maharashtra, and Mangaluru. He also spoke of a conspiracy hatched by Kalaskar and Kale to attack theatres screening Padmavat .
Chatur was a regular at the meetings of Maharshtra-based right-wing organisation Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan and was taken into the gang by Manohar Edave, a recruiter, SIT sleuths said. The Mangaluru training camp was held a few weeks before the murder of Kalburgi and he was given arms’ training, probe has now revealed.
Attack on theatre
A bike-borne duo hurled two petrol bombs into the compound of Prakash Theatre in Khade Bazar, Belagavi, screening Padmavat on the night of January 25, 2018. No one was injured. The Belagavi city police had arrested three persons in the case.
However, statements by Kalaskar, who confessed to his role in the attack, and Chatur had brought forth new information, which prompted the Belagavi city police to reinvestigate. The probe revealed that contrary to his claims, Chatur played a key role in the theatre attack case and was arrested along with six others in January 2019.
Sudhanva Gondhalekar, Kalaskar and Kurne (key accused in the Gauri Lankesh case), besides Sunil Maruti Patil, Raman Achrekar and Parashuram Kakatkar (all recruited into the gang) were the other arrested.
This was the second instance where a person linked to the “gang” was treated as a witness by SIT and later turned out to be a key accused in the murders. SIT had recorded the statement of H.L. Suresh, a teacher in whose house Kale and his associates stayed before the murder of Gauri Lankesh, as a witness only to later realise that Suresh was a key member of the gang and allegedly destroyed evidence.