File Photo of Kannada journalist, Gauri Lankesh who was shot dead at her house in Bengaluru on Tuesday evening. (Express archive photo)
AT LEAST one senior Karnataka office-bearer of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an affiliate of the Sanatan Sanstha, knew about the existence of an “extremist unit” in the parent organisation, according to a probe by a Special Investigation Team of Karnataka Police in the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Investigations have found that a Bengaluru-based co-ordinator of HJS, Mohan Gowda, allegedly put key accused, K T Naveen Kumar, in touch with this Sanstha unit in the planning phase of the Lankesh murder. Gowda allegedly connected Naveen Kumar last year to Sujeet Kumar alias Praveen, a 37-year-old Udupi resident, who was part of this unit and was arrested on May 31.
Much of the information pointing to this link has emerged from “a signed voluntary statement” given to the SIT by Naveen Kumar. The Maddur resident was arrested on March 2 for allegedly providing logistical support to a group that came from outside Karnataka to shoot Lankesh at her Bengaluru home on September 5, 2017.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Gowda said: “It is a police conspiracy. We will hold a press conference soon on behalf of the HJS to speak on these issues.”
In his statement, Kumar refers to an annual convention of the Sanstha he attended in Goa’s Ponda in June 2017.
“On the second day, there was a discussion on the protection of the Hindu dharma… I participated in the discussion and expressed my personal view that the use of weapons and arms is necessary to protect the Hindu dharma… Impressed by my speech, many people congratulated me. Mohan Gowda praised me a lot. I told him I can procure guns and bullets. He told me there were many like-minded people and they would be contacting me in the coming days,” he claims.
Gauri Lankesh was shot in September; K T naveen Kumar arrested in March.
According to the statement, a few days after the convention, Kumar received a phone call seeking a meeting from a man who identified himself as “Praveen” — the call was from a public booth. “He told me that my phone number had been provided by Mohan Gowda from Bengaluru,’’ claims the statement.
“I called up Mohan Gowda and asked him about the call… He (Mohan Gowda) told me the caller was part of his organisation and a person with my mindset. He told me to carry on working with the caller,’’ Kumar claims.
A few days later, the statement claims, the caller visited Kumar and his wife at their home, stayed the night and collected a few bullets that were in his possession to verify whether “they could be useful’’.
On August 19 and 20, 2017, the statement claims, the HJS organised an event in Bengaluru, which was attended by the man identified as Praveen. On the last day of the event, Praveen took Kumar to a park near the venue in the Vijayanagar area of Bengaluru and told him that he needed assistance to kill Lankesh, claims the statement.
“He told me Gauri Lankesh had been speaking in an insulting manner about Hindus and Hindu Gods, and that they had decided to kill her,’’ Kumar claims.
Kumar claims he subsequently travelled to a Sanstha ashram in Mangalore on the invitation of a local HJS leader on September 5, 2017, and learnt the next day from TV reports that Lankesh had been killed in Bengaluru.
On May 31, the SIT also arrested Amol Kale, 37, from Pune; Amit Degwekar, 38 from Ponda; and Manohar Edave, 29, from Vijayapura, in connection with the Lankesh case.
Mohan Gowda has previous acknowledged that Naveen Kumar was associated with the HJS. “He is known to us. He attended our adiveshan in Goa last year on our invitation. He has attended dharma sabhas in Bengaluru and a programme on Bhagat Singh. He was also part of a programme held in his own hometown Maddur,’’ Gowda had told The Indian Express earlier.