How the Karnataka SIT Cracked the Gauri Lankesh Murder Case

Over nine months of intercepting phone calls and trailing suspects – here’s how the SIT cracked the case.

Updated
Explainers
13 min read
Three suspects identified in Gauri Lankesh’s murder case.
i
Snapshot

Seconds before killing journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in cold blood, the attacker took up his shooting position. With his left leg forward and slightly bent for stability, he held the weapon in both hands. Using his left arm to support the pistol, he aimed and fired four times.

The attacker appears in the CCTV camera footage for a mere four seconds. The stance he took to fire the bullets was that of a trained shooter.

This was the only clue the Special Investigation Team (SIT) had for the first three months of its investigation into the Gauri Lankesh murder case.

Instead of waiting for a miracle, the SIT launched a massive surveillance programme, with the hope of finding a needle in a haystack.

The SIT collected call details from 15 days prior to Lankesh’s death, and the information was stored in a server built exclusively for the investigation. The team then heard calls made by more than 100 telephone numbers. Their patience paid off. The SIT intercepted the call of a man with a tendency to boast, and after that, over the next nine months, the team identified the gang behind the murder.

Here is how the SIT cracked the Gauri Lankesh murder case.

How the Karnataka SIT Cracked the Gauri Lankesh Murder Case

  1. 1. Naveen Kumar, the Gunrunner

    Naveen Kumar. A phone conversation with him was the first breakthrough in the case. 
    Naveen Kumar. A phone conversation with him was the first breakthrough in the case. 
    Photo: The Quint

    During the first three months of the investigation, one of the teams of the SIT kept tabs on more than 100 mobile phones of right-wing activists with criminal pasts. The monitoring room at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office looked like a call centre, with the several cops listening in on hundreds of calls.

    In the first week of November, a call made to Naveen Kumar, the founder of right-wing organisation Hindu Yuva Sene, caught the SIT’s attention.

    During the call, while explaining his absence, Naveen Kumar said he was underground following a big case. Which big case? “Gauri Lankesh,” he told the person on the line.

    The SIT had got its first real lead.

    After that, the SIT closely monitored every call made to his phone, but they led nowhere. The investigators soon deduced that Naveen Kumar was using another mobile phone and tracing it down became the next challenge.

    The solution came from the database of calls they had stored. The cops mapped the changing locations of Naveen Kumar’s phone, and compared it with the locations of other phones travelling on the same route.

    This is how they deduced Naveen Kumar’s other number.

    The alternative number had only incoming calls and all of them were made from public telephone booths. All of these calls were from one man, whose voice the team was familiar with by now. He gave Naveen Kumar instructions, but in code.

    During one of these calls, Naveen Kumar addressed the man as Praveen anna. Now the SIT had a second piece of the puzzle – Praveen.

    To get to Praveen, the SIT decided to keep Naveen Kumar under human surveillance. He was trailed by cops. Three shifts, round the clock, from November to February, until he was finally arrested.

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  2. 2. Praveen, the Recruiter

    Cops marking the cartridges recovered from the crime scene. 
    Cops marking the cartridges recovered from the crime scene. 
    Photo:  PTI

    As Praveen was heard giving instructions on the phone to Naveen Kumar, the SIT figured Praveen was higher in the chain of command. The team believed following Naveen Kumar would take them to Praveen. But for more than three months, these two only ever spoke on the phone.

    Praveen ensured he called from a different phone booth every time, most of them at least a hundred kilometres apart. The cops realised that he was constantly on the move.

    In the later stages of the investigation, it was revealed that Praveen’s real name was Suchith Kumar and he was a recruiter. He was in touch with Naveen Kumar to procure a weapon to murder another rationalist, KS Bhagwan. Praveen was also responsible for recruiting the man who pulled the trigger and killed Gauri Lankesh.

    During one of their phone calls, the cops heard that Naveen was on his way to Bengaluru to procure a weapon to murder Bhagwan. As trailing Naveen Kumar was not leading to Praveen, they took a call to arrest him.

    On 18 February, Naveen Kumar was arrested from Bengaluru after he had procured the weapon. He was first booked under the Arms Act and later for his role in the conspiracy to murder Bhagwan.

    But the SIT was more interested in Praveen’s whereabouts. Naveen Kumar told the cops that he was supposed to hand over the weapon to Praveen at a wedding ceremony in Brahmavar town of Udupi district on 26 February.

    The SIT soon prepared a plan to raid the wedding and arrest Praveen. However, it suffered a setback when a day before the raid, a news channel flashed the update that the SIT was on the lookout for one Praveen at a wedding in Udupi.

    Praveen escaped and went incommunicado.

    Despite the setback, the SIT continued monitoring calls made from over 100 public telephone booths that had been used by Praveen in the past.

    Officers on the task were made to listen to his voice several times to recognise it whenever they heard it on the intercepts. The teams listened to several calls for two months, but they didn’t hear Praveen’s voice again.

    However, during the first week of May, a constable on surveillance duty called his senior officer in the SIT early in the morning. The constable had heard the voice of Praveen on one of the calls. He insisted it was Praveen, as he was familiar with the recruiter’s voice by now.

    That call had come from one of the booths in Udupi district. The SIT then made a list of 126 public booths in the neighbouring districts where Praveen could possibly have travelled. From these, 30-odd booths were shortlisted as they had been used by him before.

    Policemen in mufti were placed at each of these phone booths. Days later, Praveen made a call again, and the SIT team tipped-off the cop outside the public booth.

    The cop took a photo of the man in the booth and sent it to SIT officers. One of the accused in police custody for the conspiracy to murder Bhagwan confirmed to the cops that the man at the phone booth was indeed Praveen.

    Soon, orders were issued from SIT headquarters: Don’t arrest, trail the man.

    The team didn’t know it yet, but Praveen was about to take them to their biggest catch so far.

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  3. 3. Amol Kale, the Alleged Mastermind

    Karnataka Police released sketches of the suspected killers and asked for “public help.”
    Karnataka Police released sketches of the suspected killers and asked for “public help.”
    (Photo: PTI)

    The SIT trailed Praveen for over 20 days. During this time, they mapped his movements. Cops surveyed their server data for mobile phones which were moving along the same path.

    Within hours, the SIT tracked Praveen’s mobile numbers.

    During one of his calls, Praveen mentioned a meeting with a man he called Bhai Saab – a name the cops had heard while interrogating the men arrested in connection with the conspiracy to murder Bhagwan. The SIT decided to trail Praveen to the meeting.

    The meeting was supposed to happen in Davangere district, but before Praveen could reach the spot, the SIT took him into custody. They took him to the meeting place and asked him to point at Bhai Saab. He pointed towards a red van.

    In the van, cops found three men – Amol Kale alias Bhai Saab, Amit Degwekar, and Manohar Edave.

    Amol Kale was allegedly responsible for planning and executing Gauri Lankesh’s murder, Amit Degwekar was the alleged financier, and Manohar Edave was one of the recruiters for the gang in Karnataka.
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  4. 4. The Four Secret Diaries

    SIT officers at Gauri Lankesh’s house.
    SIT officers at Gauri Lankesh’s house.
    (Photo: PTI)

    The group that had murdered Gauri Lankesh was now in the SIT’s custody, but they refused to give details about the other group which carried out the murder. What they didn’t say, however, was revealed in the evidence seized from their houses.

    The SIT found two diaries from Amol Kale’s house and one each from the houses of Edave and Praveen.

    The diaries contained several names, written in code, and phone numbers.

    In Kale’s diary, the SIT found a chit written in coded language. A to-do list with a timeline. The last date on the timeline was the day Gauri Lankesh was murdered – 5 September 2017. Cops believe that this was the blueprint for the killing of the journalist-activist.

    In the diaries found at Praveen and Edave’s houses, there were district-wise lists of names and phone numbers. The names were written in coded language. During the interrogation and analysis of the data, the SIT realised that these were potential recruits. While Praveen took care of South and West Karnataka, Edave took care of the districts in North Karnataka.

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  5. 5. Parashuram Waghmore, the Alleged Assassin

    The SIT had arrested Parashuram Waghmore (right) who is suspected to be the shooter.
    The SIT had arrested Parashuram Waghmore (right) who is suspected to be the shooter.
    (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

    Even though the handlers of the plot were now in the SIT’s custody, the team that had carried out the murder was still at large, and the men in custody were proving to be tough customers.

    The SIT used several strategies in their interrogation – from provoking the accused, to engaging in ideological debates with them. Finally, the breakthrough came from Degwekar, the alleged financier who was arrested along with Kale . During a long interrogation session, he said Gauri Lankesh was killed by ‘Builder’.

    The teams scanned the list of names in the diaries. Surprisingly, they found an entry by the name ‘Builder’. When they checked the mobile number mentioned against the entry, it was found to be switched off. The number was last operational in Sindagi town in North Karnataka’s Bijapur.

    During further interrogation, Degwekar clarified that ‘Builder’ meant ‘body builder’, but refused to cooperate further.

    Meanwhile, a forensic report based on the CCTV footage had estimated the approximate height of the attacker, using the height of Gauri Lankesh and other objects in the house. According to the report, the attacker was 5 feet 1 inch tall.

    The SIT asked the local cops in Sindagi to organise an identification parade of the known criminals in the area, especially of those caught for communal violence. The cops were told this was part of an exercise to update the list of gangsters.

    On the day of the identification parade, standing in the line was a 5 feet 2 inch-tall man with large biceps. The SIT took photos of all men in the parade, including the suspected assassin.

    One of the men in the SIT’s custody soon confirmed the man in the photo to be Parashuram Waghmore – the man who pulled the trigger, killing Gauri Lankesh.

    The next morning, the team arrived at Waghmore’s doorstep and according to the officers, he seemed relieved to the see the cops. He told them that he knew that they would come for him and confessed to murdering Lankesh.

    According to an SIT officer, while Waghmore was relieved when he was arrested, for Kale it was matter of despair. Kale banged his head against the wall, when he saw Waghmore brought, said senior officers. During the interrogation that followed, Waghmore gave the SIT the information they needed.

    He told the SIT that he was staying with two more men, Amit and Ganesh. He identified Ganesh as the biker and Amit as the man who waited in a van and took the weapon from him.

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  6. 6. The Rider, Back-up and 'Noodle-legs'

    Ganesh Miskin and Amit Batti, after being produced before a court in Bengaluru. 
    Ganesh Miskin and Amit Batti, after being produced before a court in Bengaluru. 
    (Photo: PTI)

    In order to catch Amit and Ganesh, the SIT started by making their sketches. While describing the two men, Wahgmore mentioned a peculiar detail – the veins on Ganesh’s legs looked like noodles. Cops realised he was referring to varicose veins, a condition where veins become enlarged and twisted and they are visible through the skin.

    Meanwhile, one of the teams found the names Amit and Ganesh in one of the four confiscated diaries. Although they didn’t believe these were their real names, the numbers were traced to Hubli district.

    Soon a list of known criminals in Hubli was drawn up. In the list, the team found two names – Ganesh Miskin and Amit Baddi. Both were arrested in a communal violence case in 2012.

    The two men were arrested. When the cops checked Ganesh’s legs, no surprise, they found varicose veins.

    In the days that followed, the two men admitted to their role in Lankesh’s murder, and also claimed they had conducted a recce of rationalist MM Kalburgi’s house in 2015, before he was shot dead.

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  7. 7. 'Sampa', the Acupuncture Guy

    With the major players in custody, the SIT now had to tie up the loose ends. Waghmore told the cops about an acupuncture centre in Kumbalagodu on the outskirts of Bengaluru, where he and three more people were living before Lankesh’s killing.

    He also mentioned the house of one Suresh, located close to Lankesh’s house, where Kale was staying.

    After getting this information, the SIT first went after the man who ran the acupuncture centre. They combed the four diaries for numbers from Kumbalagodu, and found one. Against this number was mentioned a name: MN Sampa – a code word.

    When the cops checked the call details of the phone number, they found two Bengaluru numbers. These numbers belonged to two real estate agents, and one of them told the SIT he had rented out this house to a man to run an acupuncture centre.

    As the number was last used in Sampaje village of Kodagu district, cops realised that Sampa stood for Sampaje and MN could be the name of the man. Following this, they reached Sampaje and started searching for acupuncture professionals.

    It was only a matter of time before they caught hold of Mohan Nayak, who confessed to have rented the house and opened an acupuncture centre on the instructions of Kale, to house these men without drawing any attention.

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  8. 8. Rajesh Bangera, the Weapons Trainer

    Rajesh Bangera said apart from Gauri’s killers, he had trained other shooters as well. Representational Image. (Photo: iStock)
    Rajesh Bangera said apart from Gauri’s killers, he had trained other shooters as well. Representational Image. (Photo: iStock)

    The last puzzle for the investigators now was the man who had provided the arms training. All the men, including Kale, called this person ‘sir’. Once again, the cops went back to the confiscated diaries and found an entry called ‘sir’. The phone number was last traced in Kodagu.

    Assuming that Mohan Nayak, who was also from Kodagu, would know this mystery man from the same district, the SIT analysed his call records. A number, belonging to one Rajesh Bangera, stood out due to the frequency of calls.

    Bangera was arrested, and during the interrogation, he admitted to have given arms training to the other accused at a farmhouse in Belagavi district. He claimed he had joined the Sanatan Sanstha in the 1990s, and was among those who were trained in arms by the organisation. He excelled in the course and was the go-to man for training recruits.

    Bangera further claimed that he had also trained the shooters responsible for the murders of Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi, adding that he didn’t have any information about them.
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  9. 9. The Witness Turned Accused

    Gauri Lankesh’s house after the murder. Two houses were rented near house my attackers to plan and coordinate the attack. 
    Gauri Lankesh’s house after the murder. Two houses were rented near house my attackers to plan and coordinate the attack. 
    Photo: The Quint

    Two houses were key for the SIT in their investigation. First, the house in Kumbalagodu where the hit team was staying and second the house in Seegehalli where Amol Kale others had camped.

    While the details about the Kombalagodu house were available after Mohan Nayak’s house, the probe into the Seegehalli house took the SIT to HL Suresh, a realtor.

    He claimed he was just a landlord and he had no knowledge about the conspiracy. The SIT believed and even made him a witness in the case. He also recorded a recorded statement before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC, claiming he is a witness.

    But after more arrests, it became clear that Suresh was part of the conspiracy. According to SIT, Suresh played the role of host, prepared food for the men, and later destroyed evidence.

    “After the murder, the clothes worn by the attackers were collected and the task of disposing them was given to Suresh. He dropped clothes in different parts of the city over next few days,” said an SIT source.

    It was later learnt that Suresh has been an active member of a Goa-based Hindutva organisation from at least 2008 and he was close friend of Kale.

    Soon, from being a witness, Suresh became the accused number 11 in the case.

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  10. 10. The Uncle and Farmhouse

    Even after Bangera’s arrest, there were loose ends in the case. The diaries recovered from Kale and the testimonies of the suspects in custody mentioned a man known as ‘uncle’, who was present in all the meetings held by the gang.

    Known also as ‘tamatar; because he sold vegetables, he was also present at the Kumbalagodu house, where the assassins were staying. He also dropped Waghmore, the shooter, in the outskirts of the city after killing Gauri.

    In search for the ‘uncle’, Miskin, one of the gang members played a crucial role. During his interrogation he agreed to show where the ‘uncle’ met them and took the SIT sleuths to a three-acre farmhouse in Khanapur, Belagavi.

    It was in this farmhouse that arms training for the gang and several meetings to plan the murder took place.

    The farmhouse was registered in the name of the woman and during her questioning, cops acquired photos of her two sons. Later Miskin identified one of the men, Bharat Kurne, as the uncle.

    He was the 12th person arrested in the case.

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  11. 11. Tying Loose Ends

    While most of the conspirators and attackers in the case were arrested there were some loose ends in the case. The interrogation of suspects had mentioned four more men, who were involved in stealing the bike used for the attack, disposing the weapons etc.

    Since links had emerged between the murders of other rationalists in Maharashtra and the Gauri Lankesh murder, the Karnataka SIT shared these details with their counterparts in the neighbouring state.

    The big breakthrough came few weeks later in August 2019, when the Maharashtra ATS had carried out raids in Nalasopara and Pune and uncovered large cache of arms.

    In a series of arrests that followed, the four men wanted by the SIT – Vasudev Suryavanshi, a motorcycle mechanic who stole a bike used for the murder; Sharad Kalaskar, who disposed the weapon used to kill Gauri’s murder; Shrikant Pangarkar, who was part of the conspiracy meetings and Sudhanva Gondhalekar, one of the gang members seen near the scene of crime – were arrested.

    In January 2020, the SIT arrested Rushikesh Devdikar alias Murali from Dhanbad. Devdikar, a former Aurangabad co-ordinator of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an affiliate of the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, was instrumental in ordering the destruction of the guns used in the murder of Lankesh and others soon after the arrest of key members of the group in May 2018.

    With the arrest of these five men, the total number of arrests in the Gauri Lankesh case stands at 17. One Vikas Patil who was part of the conspiracy is yet to be arrested.

    On 23 November, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) had filed a 9,235-page additional charge sheet and the case is pending trial.

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Naveen Kumar, the Gunrunner

Naveen Kumar. A phone conversation with him was the first breakthrough in the case. 
Naveen Kumar. A phone conversation with him was the first breakthrough in the case. 
Photo: The Quint

During the first three months of the investigation, one of the teams of the SIT kept tabs on more than 100 mobile phones of right-wing activists with criminal pasts. The monitoring room at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office looked like a call centre, with the several cops listening in on hundreds of calls.

In the first week of November, a call made to Naveen Kumar, the founder of right-wing organisation Hindu Yuva Sene, caught the SIT’s attention.

During the call, while explaining his absence, Naveen Kumar said he was underground following a big case. Which big case? “Gauri Lankesh,” he told the person on the line.

The SIT had got its first real lead.

After that, the SIT closely monitored every call made to his phone, but they led nowhere. The investigators soon deduced that Naveen Kumar was using another mobile phone and tracing it down became the next challenge.

The solution came from the database of calls they had stored. The cops mapped the changing locations of Naveen Kumar’s phone, and compared it with the locations of other phones travelling on the same route.

This is how they deduced Naveen Kumar’s other number.

The alternative number had only incoming calls and all of them were made from public telephone booths. All of these calls were from one man, whose voice the team was familiar with by now. He gave Naveen Kumar instructions, but in code.

During one of these calls, Naveen Kumar addressed the man as Praveen anna. Now the SIT had a second piece of the puzzle – Praveen.

To get to Praveen, the SIT decided to keep Naveen Kumar under human surveillance. He was trailed by cops. Three shifts, round the clock, from November to February, until he was finally arrested.

Praveen, the Recruiter

Cops marking the cartridges recovered from the crime scene. 
Cops marking the cartridges recovered from the crime scene. 
Photo:  PTI

As Praveen was heard giving instructions on the phone to Naveen Kumar, the SIT figured Praveen was higher in the chain of command. The team believed following Naveen Kumar would take them to Praveen. But for more than three months, these two only ever spoke on the phone.

Praveen ensured he called from a different phone booth every time, most of them at least a hundred kilometres apart. The cops realised that he was constantly on the move.

In the later stages of the investigation, it was revealed that Praveen’s real name was Suchith Kumar and he was a recruiter. He was in touch with Naveen Kumar to procure a weapon to murder another rationalist, KS Bhagwan. Praveen was also responsible for recruiting the man who pulled the trigger and killed Gauri Lankesh.

During one of their phone calls, the cops heard that Naveen was on his way to Bengaluru to procure a weapon to murder Bhagwan. As trailing Naveen Kumar was not leading to Praveen, they took a call to arrest him.

On 18 February, Naveen Kumar was arrested from Bengaluru after he had procured the weapon. He was first booked under the Arms Act and later for his role in the conspiracy to murder Bhagwan.

But the SIT was more interested in Praveen’s whereabouts. Naveen Kumar told the cops that he was supposed to hand over the weapon to Praveen at a wedding ceremony in Brahmavar town of Udupi district on 26 February.

The SIT soon prepared a plan to raid the wedding and arrest Praveen. However, it suffered a setback when a day before the raid, a news channel flashed the update that the SIT was on the lookout for one Praveen at a wedding in Udupi.

Praveen escaped and went incommunicado.

Despite the setback, the SIT continued monitoring calls made from over 100 public telephone booths that had been used by Praveen in the past.

Officers on the task were made to listen to his voice several times to recognise it whenever they heard it on the intercepts. The teams listened to several calls for two months, but they didn’t hear Praveen’s voice again.

However, during the first week of May, a constable on surveillance duty called his senior officer in the SIT early in the morning. The constable had heard the voice of Praveen on one of the calls. He insisted it was Praveen, as he was familiar with the recruiter’s voice by now.

That call had come from one of the booths in Udupi district. The SIT then made a list of 126 public booths in the neighbouring districts where Praveen could possibly have travelled. From these, 30-odd booths were shortlisted as they had been used by him before.

Policemen in mufti were placed at each of these phone booths. Days later, Praveen made a call again, and the SIT team tipped-off the cop outside the public booth.

The cop took a photo of the man in the booth and sent it to SIT officers. One of the accused in police custody for the conspiracy to murder Bhagwan confirmed to the cops that the man at the phone booth was indeed Praveen.

Soon, orders were issued from SIT headquarters: Don’t arrest, trail the man.

The team didn’t know it yet, but Praveen was about to take them to their biggest catch so far.

Amol Kale, the Alleged Mastermind

Karnataka Police released sketches of the suspected killers and asked for “public help.”
Karnataka Police released sketches of the suspected killers and asked for “public help.”
(Photo: PTI)

The SIT trailed Praveen for over 20 days. During this time, they mapped his movements. Cops surveyed their server data for mobile phones which were moving along the same path.

Within hours, the SIT tracked Praveen’s mobile numbers.

During one of his calls, Praveen mentioned a meeting with a man he called Bhai Saab – a name the cops had heard while interrogating the men arrested in connection with the conspiracy to murder Bhagwan. The SIT decided to trail Praveen to the meeting.

The meeting was supposed to happen in Davangere district, but before Praveen could reach the spot, the SIT took him into custody. They took him to the meeting place and asked him to point at Bhai Saab. He pointed towards a red van.

In the van, cops found three men – Amol Kale alias Bhai Saab, Amit Degwekar, and Manohar Edave.

Amol Kale was allegedly responsible for planning and executing Gauri Lankesh’s murder, Amit Degwekar was the alleged financier, and Manohar Edave was one of the recruiters for the gang in Karnataka.

The Four Secret Diaries

SIT officers at Gauri Lankesh’s house.
SIT officers at Gauri Lankesh’s house.
(Photo: PTI)

The group that had murdered Gauri Lankesh was now in the SIT’s custody, but they refused to give details about the other group which carried out the murder. What they didn’t say, however, was revealed in the evidence seized from their houses.

The SIT found two diaries from Amol Kale’s house and one each from the houses of Edave and Praveen.

The diaries contained several names, written in code, and phone numbers.

In Kale’s diary, the SIT found a chit written in coded language. A to-do list with a timeline. The last date on the timeline was the day Gauri Lankesh was murdered – 5 September 2017. Cops believe that this was the blueprint for the killing of the journalist-activist.

In the diaries found at Praveen and Edave’s houses, there were district-wise lists of names and phone numbers. The names were written in coded language. During the interrogation and analysis of the data, the SIT realised that these were potential recruits. While Praveen took care of South and West Karnataka, Edave took care of the districts in North Karnataka.

Parashuram Waghmore, the Alleged Assassin

The SIT had arrested Parashuram Waghmore (right) who is suspected to be the shooter.
The SIT had arrested Parashuram Waghmore (right) who is suspected to be the shooter.
(Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

Even though the handlers of the plot were now in the SIT’s custody, the team that had carried out the murder was still at large, and the men in custody were proving to be tough customers.

The SIT used several strategies in their interrogation – from provoking the accused, to engaging in ideological debates with them. Finally, the breakthrough came from Degwekar, the alleged financier who was arrested along with Kale . During a long interrogation session, he said Gauri Lankesh was killed by ‘Builder’.

The teams scanned the list of names in the diaries. Surprisingly, they found an entry by the name ‘Builder’. When they checked the mobile number mentioned against the entry, it was found to be switched off. The number was last operational in Sindagi town in North Karnataka’s Bijapur.

During further interrogation, Degwekar clarified that ‘Builder’ meant ‘body builder’, but refused to cooperate further.

Meanwhile, a forensic report based on the CCTV footage had estimated the approximate height of the attacker, using the height of Gauri Lankesh and other objects in the house. According to the report, the attacker was 5 feet 1 inch tall.

The SIT asked the local cops in Sindagi to organise an identification parade of the known criminals in the area, especially of those caught for communal violence. The cops were told this was part of an exercise to update the list of gangsters.

On the day of the identification parade, standing in the line was a 5 feet 2 inch-tall man with large biceps. The SIT took photos of all men in the parade, including the suspected assassin.

One of the men in the SIT’s custody soon confirmed the man in the photo to be Parashuram Waghmore – the man who pulled the trigger, killing Gauri Lankesh.

The next morning, the team arrived at Waghmore’s doorstep and according to the officers, he seemed relieved to the see the cops. He told them that he knew that they would come for him and confessed to murdering Lankesh.

According to an SIT officer, while Waghmore was relieved when he was arrested, for Kale it was matter of despair. Kale banged his head against the wall, when he saw Waghmore brought, said senior officers. During the interrogation that followed, Waghmore gave the SIT the information they needed.

He told the SIT that he was staying with two more men, Amit and Ganesh. He identified Ganesh as the biker and Amit as the man who waited in a van and took the weapon from him.

The Rider, Back-up and 'Noodle-legs'

Ganesh Miskin and Amit Batti, after being produced before a court in Bengaluru. 
Ganesh Miskin and Amit Batti, after being produced before a court in Bengaluru. 
(Photo: PTI)

In order to catch Amit and Ganesh, the SIT started by making their sketches. While describing the two men, Wahgmore mentioned a peculiar detail – the veins on Ganesh’s legs looked like noodles. Cops realised he was referring to varicose veins, a condition where veins become enlarged and twisted and they are visible through the skin.

Meanwhile, one of the teams found the names Amit and Ganesh in one of the four confiscated diaries. Although they didn’t believe these were their real names, the numbers were traced to Hubli district.

Soon a list of known criminals in Hubli was drawn up. In the list, the team found two names – Ganesh Miskin and Amit Baddi. Both were arrested in a communal violence case in 2012.

The two men were arrested. When the cops checked Ganesh’s legs, no surprise, they found varicose veins.

In the days that followed, the two men admitted to their role in Lankesh’s murder, and also claimed they had conducted a recce of rationalist MM Kalburgi’s house in 2015, before he was shot dead.

'Sampa', the Acupuncture Guy

With the major players in custody, the SIT now had to tie up the loose ends. Waghmore told the cops about an acupuncture centre in Kumbalagodu on the outskirts of Bengaluru, where he and three more people were living before Lankesh’s killing.

He also mentioned the house of one Suresh, located close to Lankesh’s house, where Kale was staying.

After getting this information, the SIT first went after the man who ran the acupuncture centre. They combed the four diaries for numbers from Kumbalagodu, and found one. Against this number was mentioned a name: MN Sampa – a code word.

When the cops checked the call details of the phone number, they found two Bengaluru numbers. These numbers belonged to two real estate agents, and one of them told the SIT he had rented out this house to a man to run an acupuncture centre.

As the number was last used in Sampaje village of Kodagu district, cops realised that Sampa stood for Sampaje and MN could be the name of the man. Following this, they reached Sampaje and started searching for acupuncture professionals.

It was only a matter of time before they caught hold of Mohan Nayak, who confessed to have rented the house and opened an acupuncture centre on the instructions of Kale, to house these men without drawing any attention.

Rajesh Bangera, the Weapons Trainer

Rajesh Bangera said apart from Gauri’s killers, he had trained other shooters as well. Representational Image. (Photo: iStock)
Rajesh Bangera said apart from Gauri’s killers, he had trained other shooters as well. Representational Image. (Photo: iStock)

The last puzzle for the investigators now was the man who had provided the arms training. All the men, including Kale, called this person ‘sir’. Once again, the cops went back to the confiscated diaries and found an entry called ‘sir’. The phone number was last traced in Kodagu.

Assuming that Mohan Nayak, who was also from Kodagu, would know this mystery man from the same district, the SIT analysed his call records. A number, belonging to one Rajesh Bangera, stood out due to the frequency of calls.

Bangera was arrested, and during the interrogation, he admitted to have given arms training to the other accused at a farmhouse in Belagavi district. He claimed he had joined the Sanatan Sanstha in the 1990s, and was among those who were trained in arms by the organisation. He excelled in the course and was the go-to man for training recruits.

Bangera further claimed that he had also trained the shooters responsible for the murders of Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi, adding that he didn’t have any information about them.

The Witness Turned Accused

Gauri Lankesh’s house after the murder. Two houses were rented near house my attackers to plan and coordinate the attack. 
Gauri Lankesh’s house after the murder. Two houses were rented near house my attackers to plan and coordinate the attack. 
Photo: The Quint

Two houses were key for the SIT in their investigation. First, the house in Kumbalagodu where the hit team was staying and second the house in Seegehalli where Amol Kale others had camped.

While the details about the Kombalagodu house were available after Mohan Nayak’s house, the probe into the Seegehalli house took the SIT to HL Suresh, a realtor.

He claimed he was just a landlord and he had no knowledge about the conspiracy. The SIT believed and even made him a witness in the case. He also recorded a recorded statement before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC, claiming he is a witness.

But after more arrests, it became clear that Suresh was part of the conspiracy. According to SIT, Suresh played the role of host, prepared food for the men, and later destroyed evidence.

“After the murder, the clothes worn by the attackers were collected and the task of disposing them was given to Suresh. He dropped clothes in different parts of the city over next few days,” said an SIT source.

It was later learnt that Suresh has been an active member of a Goa-based Hindutva organisation from at least 2008 and he was close friend of Kale.

Soon, from being a witness, Suresh became the accused number 11 in the case.

The Uncle and Farmhouse

Even after Bangera’s arrest, there were loose ends in the case. The diaries recovered from Kale and the testimonies of the suspects in custody mentioned a man known as ‘uncle’, who was present in all the meetings held by the gang.

Known also as ‘tamatar; because he sold vegetables, he was also present at the Kumbalagodu house, where the assassins were staying. He also dropped Waghmore, the shooter, in the outskirts of the city after killing Gauri.

In search for the ‘uncle’, Miskin, one of the gang members played a crucial role. During his interrogation he agreed to show where the ‘uncle’ met them and took the SIT sleuths to a three-acre farmhouse in Khanapur, Belagavi.

It was in this farmhouse that arms training for the gang and several meetings to plan the murder took place.

The farmhouse was registered in the name of the woman and during her questioning, cops acquired photos of her two sons. Later Miskin identified one of the men, Bharat Kurne, as the uncle.

He was the 12th person arrested in the case.

Tying Loose Ends

While most of the conspirators and attackers in the case were arrested there were some loose ends in the case. The interrogation of suspects had mentioned four more men, who were involved in stealing the bike used for the attack, disposing the weapons etc.

Since links had emerged between the murders of other rationalists in Maharashtra and the Gauri Lankesh murder, the Karnataka SIT shared these details with their counterparts in the neighbouring state.

The big breakthrough came few weeks later in August 2019, when the Maharashtra ATS had carried out raids in Nalasopara and Pune and uncovered large cache of arms.

In a series of arrests that followed, the four men wanted by the SIT – Vasudev Suryavanshi, a motorcycle mechanic who stole a bike used for the murder; Sharad Kalaskar, who disposed the weapon used to kill Gauri’s murder; Shrikant Pangarkar, who was part of the conspiracy meetings and Sudhanva Gondhalekar, one of the gang members seen near the scene of crime – were arrested.

In January 2020, the SIT arrested Rushikesh Devdikar alias Murali from Dhanbad. Devdikar, a former Aurangabad co-ordinator of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an affiliate of the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, was instrumental in ordering the destruction of the guns used in the murder of Lankesh and others soon after the arrest of key members of the group in May 2018.

With the arrest of these five men, the total number of arrests in the Gauri Lankesh case stands at 17. One Vikas Patil who was part of the conspiracy is yet to be arrested.

On 23 November, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) had filed a 9,235-page additional charge sheet and the case is pending trial.

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