The 55-year-old Lankesh, known as an anti-establishment voice with strident anti-right wing views, was shot dead at close range by unknown assailants.
The Karnataka Police Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh arrested a 37-year-old vegetable farmer who runs a small dhaba in Belagavi on Thursday on charges of playing a central role in the execution of the crime.
According to sources, the SIT’s probe has found that Bharat Kurne alias Tomatar, who allegedly has links to a Hindutva fringe group in Maharashtra, was part of a two-man team which waited in a car for the shooter and an accomplice to finish the murder and drove them away to a safehouse on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
A three-acre farm run by Kurne in a secluded part of Khanapur was used for training dozens of people recruited for a radical Hindutva outfit in using guns and physical combat, the probe has found. It has also found that Parashuram Waghmare, 26, a right-wing Hindutva activist accused by the SIT of shooting Lankesh, was also trained on the farm. SIT sources said as many as six persons arrested in the murder case received training at Kurne’s Khanapur farm.
Kurne is the twelfth person to be arrested in the case out of the 13 persons named so far for allegedly executing and planning the murder.
When Kurne was produced in court, the SIT told the court that he provided his farm for training right-wing cadre at the instance of Amol Kale, 37, a former Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) convener who allegedly headed a covert right wing group involved in assassinations and subversive activities. Kale was arrested in May.
The SIT also provided the court a copy of a confessional statement given by the suspect of his role in the murder.
Sources in SIT said Kurne was part of the four-man team involved in executing Lankesh’s murder.
Kurne’s identity emerged in the investigation as someone called “Tomatar’’ who moved into a house around 15 km away from Lankesh’s home with three others days before her murder. The three others in the house were the alleged shooter Waghmare, 26, a former activist of the Sri Rama Sena; Ganesh Miskin, 27, a Hubbali youth with a history of communal violence who allegedly took the shooter to Lankesh’s house on a bike; and Amit Baddi, 28, a friend of Miskin who waited in the getaway car with Kurne.
Soon after the murder, the four vacated the house and returned to their homes located around Karnataka. The SIT managed to identify the man known as “Tomatar’’ to the three others at the house after the arrest of Waghmare on June 11 and the arrest of Miskin and Baddi on July 22.
The arrest of Kurne is expected to throw open investigation into the murder of Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi in 2015 at his home in Dharwad. The SIT has found that both Lankesh and Kalburgi were shot dead with the same 7.65 mm countrymade pistol. The SIT has also found that the shooter in the Lankesh case, Waghmare, was told by a trainer during his training at the farm near Khanapur that he should fire at Lankesh’s head like one of those present at the training had done when Kalburgi was murdered.
Lankesh, 55, was murdered outside her home in west Bengaluru on September 5, 2017 when she returned from work and was opening the gates to park her car.
A total of 12 persons have been arrested so far for involvement in Lankesh’s murder. They comprise K T Naveen Kumar, 37, Sujeet Kumar, 38, Manohar Edave, 29, Amol Kale, 37, Amit Degwekar, 38, Waghmare, 26, Mohan Nayak, 50, Ganesh Miskin, 27, Amit Baddi, 28, Rajesh Bangera, 50, and Suresh Kumar, 37.
with the Express Morning Briefing