Gauri Lankesh

A lead at last?

Print edition : April 13, 2018

Gauri Lankesh. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

The long-held suspicion that right-wing elements were involved in the gunning down of the activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh is getting strengthened. The arrest and naming as accused No.1 of K.T. Naveen Kumar—a 37-year-old small-time gunrunner, local hoodlum and right-wing activist who is the president of a radical Hindutva outfit called the Hindu Yuva Sene (which he and his elder brother Thimme Gowda are alleged to have formed)—has lent substance to claims that activists from the Hindu Right plotted and killed Gauri Lankesh on the late evening of September 5, 2017, outside her home in Bengaluru. Right-wing activists had for a long time criticised her for her forthright views and writings against communal hatred, bigotry and misogyny.

According to sources in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that is probing the case, Naveen Kumar, who also goes by the moniker “Hotte Manja” (pot-bellied Manja) and “Annaiya”, has close links with prominent radical right-wing outfits and gunrunners from Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra and confessed to helping the person/persons who shot Gauri Lankesh. The sources told Frontline that Naveen Kumar and an acquaintance from Mangaluru met last July and arranged a target practice camp for four “Hindi-speaking men” who “belonged to some right-wing organisations based outside Karnataka”. The SIT understands that Naveen Kumar picked up four men from the vicinity of his residence in a Maruti Omni and drove them to a forested area between Kollegal and Chamarajanagar, where they practised, long- and short-range firing with a countrymade pistol. The practice sessions, according to the source, went on until the third week of August.

The police also learnt that Naveen Kumar’s wife had a few years ago relocated to Mangaluru, in the environs of which city, sources claim, he went underground following the killing. The SIT’s efforts to identify the four men have come a cropper. Naveen Kumar provided the SIT with their phone numbers, but the phones have been switched off and the addresses provided when the SIM cards were procured are fake. The details now get murky. SIT sleuths are convinced that it is Naveen Kumar—on a motorbike, wearing a full-face helmet, a white shirt and black trousers—who can be seen in the CCTV footage around Gauri Lankesh’s house on September 3 and 5. The police admit, however, that they are yet to establish that they are one and the same man. Reports also suggest that Naveen Kumar could be the person who drove the assailant, who pumped the fatal bullets into Gauri Lankesh, to the crime scene. He could also have arranged two-wheelers for the assailants and shown them her office and residence.

Naveen Kumar, who has not been forthcoming on who these persons are, will now undergo narco analysis. On March 12, the 3rd Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court acceded to the SIT’s request to conduct narco analysis on Naveen Kumar after he gave his consent. His advocate, A. Vedamurthy, who claims that his client has been framed in the case, said that Naveen Kumar agreed to the narco analysis only because he hopes it would help prove his innocence.

Originally from Birur in Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru district, but for many years now a resident of Kestur village in Mandya district’s Pandavapura taluk, Naveen Kumar was, according to official sources, picked up on February 18 by sleuths of the Central Crime Branch at Bengaluru’s Kempe Gowda bus terminus while he was in the illegal possession of 15 live .32-calibre cartridges. Frontline has learnt from reliable sources that Naveen Kumar landed in the police dragnet after the SIT, in the course of its investigation, wiretapped his phone, along with those of other known right-wing fanatics. Refuting the police version, Thimme Gowda told Frontline that Naveen Kumar was arrested in Birur on February 14. He said: “Nobody knew of his arrest. I was advised by my advocate to file a habeas corpus petition. Before I could do that, the police contacted Naveen’s wife and informed her of his arrest for possessing ammunition.” Thimme Gowda is not the only person crying foul over the arrest. Three friends of Naveen Kumar from Maddur alleged in court that they were picked up by the local police, blindfolded and taken to an unknown location where they were tortured and tutored to make statements against their friend. They alleged that petty cases were registered against them. Sources in the SIT told Frontline that Naveen Kumar had allegedly sourced the bullets from Uttar Pradesh for Rs.1,000 each.

Under tremendous pressure because its investigation is going nowhere even after six months, the SIT is hoping that Naveen Kumar’s arrest will bring it closer to identifying the perpetrators. But Deputy Commissioner of Police M.N. Anucheth, the second in command of the SIT, advised caution: “There is no corroborative evidence so far. There is nothing that can hold up the case in court. Illegal possession of ammunition is an entirely different case. So far he has not admitted any links to [Gauri] Lankesh’s killing. All that he has said is that he had met four people in a room. But he is also extremely vague about their antecedents or their involvement in the planning or execution of the crime.”

Ravi Sharma