27, Nov 2018 | Deborah Grey
In fresh developments in the Gauri Lankesh murder case, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has filed an additional chargesheet naming the hardline Hindutva group Sanatan Sanstha as the chief perpetrator in the case. Following this there has been a demand to ban the Sanatan Sanstha in Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The Karnataka SIT investigating the case has filed a chargesheet running into over 9000 pages! They claim that the intrepid journalist’s murder was painstakingly planned to the last detail over a period of five long years!
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The primary chargsheet was filed against KT Naveen Kumar, a 37 year old member of the Hindu Yuva Sena on May 30. On November 23, the supplementary chargesheet was filed. 18 people have reportedly been named in the chargesheet. These include shooter Parashuram Waghmare, masterminds Amol Kale, Sujith Kumar alias Praveen and Amit Digwekar. Special Public Prosecutor S. Balan was quoted by the Indian Express as saying, “It is an act of organised crime. The Sanatan Sanstha has been named in the chargesheet as the group that carried out the killing with the help of members of other fringe groups. The murder was planned by a group involved in such killings for five years.’’
In a press release the SIT said, “The investigation so far has revealed that all the 18 accused are active members of an organised crime syndicate. This syndicate was formed in 2010-11, under the leadership of Virendra Tawade alias Bade Bhaisaab. One former editor of ‘Sanatan Prabhat’ provided financial support to this syndicate. The members of this organisation targeted people who they identified to be inimical to their belief and ideology. The members strictly followed the guidelines and principles mentioned in ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’, a book published by Sanatan Sanstha.” The statement further added, “In August 2016, in a meeting of the syndicate, the main members identified Ms. Lankesh as a “durjan” as told in the ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’, based on her speeches and writings. They jointly hatched a conspiracy to murder her.”
All accused have been booked under the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act, Arms Act and Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The police have sought permission to continue further investigation in the case. The trail could commence in January 2019.
Key Accused and their Alleged Affiliations
The press release by the SIT listed important members of this syndicate as, “Amit Degvekar, Vikas Patil and Rishikesh Deodikar. Vikas Patil had recruited Sujith Kumar alias Praveen and Manohar Edave in order to carry out the recruitment of members in Karnataka. Sujith Kumar eventually recruited Parshuram Waghmore, the shooter, K.T. Naveen Kumar and several others. Manohar Edave recruited Ganesh Miskin and Amit Baddi.”
Amol Kale, a former Hindu Janjagruti Samiti convener, allegedly hired killer Parshuram Waghmare. Waghamare was allegedly a member of the Sri Ram Sene. Kale took him to an isolated spot in Khanapur, Belgaum to practice using an air pistol. Waghmare allegedly did a recce of Lankesh’s house in July 2017. On September 5, he and another back-up gunman Ganesh Miskin arrived outside Lankesh’s house on a black motorcycle. Waghmare fired four times as Lankesh and the duo fled the scene.
Calls to ban Sanatan Sanstha
Meanwhile, members of the Congress Party and NCP have appealed to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis to ban the Sanatan Sanstha. State Congress president and former CM Ashok Chavan told Times of India, “We suspect Sanatan’s involvement in the murder of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, and scholar M M Kalburgi. The SIT’s report has clearly established that it was directly involved in the murder of Lankesh. Under such circumstances, it will be appropriate to ban it.” Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara also told PTI that the state government would soon take a call on banning the organisation. “No discussions have taken place regarding the organisations involved in the crime, but shortly we will take a decision on that,” he said.
Intellectuals on the Hit List
The chargesheet also mentions 26 other people who were on a hit list of sorts. These are eminent journalists, educationists and intellectuals who are perceived to be anti-Hindu by the Sanatan Sanstha. These include Siddharth Varadrajan (Editor, The Wire), journalist Antara Dev Sen, JNU professor Chaman Lal, Punjabi playwright Atamjit Singh among others.
The Wider Terror Network
There are two modules of the terror group that coexisted but operated separately. The first module comprised men arrested in connection with the Gauri Lankesh case who are also being investigated for their alleged involvement in a series of assassinations of rationalists such as Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi. The second module that the ATS discovered during their investigations after a tip off from the Karnataka SIT, were planning to strike Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra including Pune, Satara and Solapur. Recovering such a huge cache of arms around Independence Day, Bakr Eid and in the run up to the Ganpati festival is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine!
Armed with the information provided by the Karnataka SIT, the ATS had arrested three men on August 10, 2018; Vaibhav Raut (40), Sudhanwa Gondhalekar (39) and Sharad Kalaskar (25). Raut is the convener of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti. 20 crude bombs and two gelatin sheets were recovered from his Nallasopara home. Meanwhile, Gondhalekar is a member of Shiv Shivapratishthan Hindustan, an organisation run by none other than Shambhaji Bhide, one of the two key accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence.
But, it was Kalaskar who was a common member of two modules. The ATS claims that Kalaskar was one of the two gunmen who shot and killed Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013. According to the ATS, the weapon used to kill Gauri Lankesh and other rationalists was also procured and manufactured by Sharad Kalaskar. He was also arrested from Raut’s home where the ATS discovered a huge cache of explosives and a note on how to make bombs was recovered from Kalaskar.
Connection with the Narendra Dabholkar Murder
Three of the accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case are also linked to the plot to kill anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar. Dabholkar was shot dead on August 20, 2013. The same weapon was used in both crimes according to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Sachin Andure, one of the alleged shooters of Dabholkar, was arrested by the CBI and has been remanded to judicial custody.
Meanwhile, his co-accused Rajesh Bangera and Amit Digvekar have also been remanded to judicial custody. Bangera had allegedly provided weapons training to Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, the two men who allegedly shot Narendra Dabholkar. Meanwhile Digvekar had helped recon Dabholkar’s house and keep tabs on his movement and routine. Digvekar was also a ‘saadhak’ in the Sanatan Sanstha. Sharad Kalaskar who was in the custody of the Maharashtra ATS in connection with the explosives seizure case, has now also been remanded to judicial custody.
Sanatan Sanstha denies allegations
The Sanatan Sanstha has once again denied any involvement in the case. Sanstha member Chetan Rajhans told PTI, “None of the accused are members of the Sanatan Sanstha. If the SIT mentions our name in the supplementary charge sheet, we will fight it legally.”