Nearly six months after the murder of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru, the police seem to have got a breakthrough with the recent arrest of a Hindu outfit member, KT Naveen Kumar. Now, the police are looking for a person who would frequently call Kumar from the coastal Karnataka region of Mangalore, using only public telephones, reported The Indian Express.
The newspaper reported that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has found from Kumar’s mobile phone records that he had received many calls from numbers with the prefix 0824, which is the code for Mangalore. The police are trying to find out if that caller was directly and indirectly involved in the operation and conspiracy behind the murder of Lankesh in September last year.
The investigators are also trying to find if Kumar and that caller were also trying to target Mysuru-based writer and rationalist KS Bhagwan, who is outspoken in his views regarding Hindu beliefs. He was given police protection in Karnataka following Lankesh’s murder, the report said.
The SIT took Kumar into its custody on Friday for questioning. Some newspaper reports suggest that investigators are verifying visuals of a man captured on CCTV recordings from the vicinity of Lankesh's home. But investigators aren't revealing any details yet.
Kumar, described as a native of Maddur, around 100 kilometres south-west of Bengaluru, was arrested in the city on February 19 with.32 mm calibre revolver. “In that case, he had given some clues and made some statements which made him a ‘person of interest’ for us,” said an SIT officer. The SIT has sought his custody for eight days.
According to investigators, Kumar, who was living with his wife in Birur, a town in Chikmagalur district, had formed an outfit called Hindu Yuva Sena in 2014.
Lankesh, who edited the Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike and was a staunch critic of right-wing politics, was shot dead on September 5, 2017 around 8 pm outside her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in Bengaluru. In the weeks following the murder, newspaper reports had cited forensic analyses that suggested similarities between the markings on the cartridges and bullets recovered from the murder scene and those from the murder of Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi in Dharwad in August 2015. The SIT, however, has so far denied that there's any proof to link the two murders.
Over the months, the SIT officers say they have questioned several people linked to the illegal arms trade in Karnataka in the search for clues to the Lankesh murder. So far, the SIT says it has inspected 40-45 guns seized from northern Karnataka districts which, apparently, are an entry point for countrymade weapons being smuggled in from other states. According to one officer, the crackdown has helped to disrupt the illegal trade in countrymade weapons in Karnataka to some extent.
Occasionally, these inquiries have led to unconnected outcomes -- like the interrogation of a gun smuggler in December which led to the sensational accusation against Kannada tabloid editor Ravi Belagere that he had engaged a hired hand to kill an employee over a personal grudge. That, as investigators explained, had nothing to do with the Lankesh probe.