Journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh’s murder is being compared with the killings of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, CPI leader Govind Pansare and scholar MM Kalburgi. Some reports suggest that the Karnataka police have found similarities in the murder weapons used in these murder cases.
Following the outrage over cold-blooded murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh on Tuesday night by unidentified gunmen in Bengaluru, the Siddaramaiah government of Karnataka formed a special investigation team (SIT) headed by an IG rank police officer. Now, the state government has said that it is open to CBI probe into the case.
Formed within hours of the burial of Gauri Lankesh, the SIT has not been given a deadline to complete the probe into the murder case. The government has asked the SIT to look into the possible connections between the murders of MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh.
The three murders cases are also connected by the similarities in the working styles of the four activists. They all were critical of right-wing groups and said to have had several run-ins with the Hindutva factions.
The series of murders of rationalists and critic of Hindutva brigade began with the murder of Narendra Dabholkar on August 20, 2013. Narendra Dabholkar was the founder-president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samilti (an anti-superstition group).
Dabholkar was killed in cold-blood while he was out for his morning walk in Pune. The Congress was in the government in Maharashtra then. As police failed to make much headway in the case while media pressure was sustained, the state government, in May 2014, transferred the case to the CBI.
The CBI also could not get clue about the killers for months. In August 2015, the CBI announced a cash reward of Rs 25 lakh for anyone giving information about the killers. But, it took another one year for the CBI to chargesheet Virendra Tawade of Hindu Jagaran Samiti as “key conspirator” in the Dabholkar murder case.
Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar of Sanathan Sanstha – the parent outfit of the Hindu Jagaran Samiti – were named as the shooters in the Dabholkar murder case. But, the two are still at large. The CBI announced a prize of Rs 5 lakh each for information about them.
Meanwhile, Virendra Tawade has applied for bail arguing the CBI has failed to submit evidence. The trial court is yet to decide his bail plea.
Govind Pansare was a CPI leader in Maharashtra and a rationalist like Dabholkar. Both campaigned against superstition and self-proclaimed godmen from all over the country.
Like Dabholkar, Govind Pansare was also shot when he was out for morning walk with his wife in Kolhapur on February 15, 2015. Pansare succumbed to his injuries on February 20. His wife Uma Pansare received bullet in her head but survived. Uma, however, suffered paralysis due to bullet injury.
Maharashtra police failed to make any progress in the case for months during which it increased the reward to information on killers from Rs 50,000 to Rs 25 lakh. In September 2015, Pansare’s murder was linked to Sanathan Sanstha with the arrest of Sameer Gaikwad.
While police could not produce any evidence to support its theory, the case was transferred to an SIT in 2016. The SIT linked Pansare’s murder with Dabholkar’s killing and named Virendra Tawade, Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar for the crime.
The CBI also linked the two murder case. But, investigation in the case has not made much progress with the families of Pansare and Dabholkar approaching the Bombay High Court
seeking speedy probe in the murder cases. Meanwhile, Sameer Gaikwad is out on bail.
MM Kalburgi was the former vice-chancellor of Kannada University. He was killed outside his residence in Dharwad on August 30, 2015 – 10 days after Govind Pansare was killed in Maharashtra.
A member of politically dominant Lingayat community – usually considered as supporter of the BJP in Karnataka, Kalburgi was critical of the Hindutva groups. His murder case was initially probed by the local police, which made no progress in investigation.
The case was transferred to the state CID. The government also announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for information about the killers. In December 2015, the CID claimed that the killers of Kalburgi were from the same group which murdered Dabholkar and Pansare.
In September 2016, the CID blamed the Maharashtra SIT – under the BJP rule – for non-cooperation in what it said were interlinked murder cases. Last month, the CID claimed that it was very close to solving the case, but it gave no details about the investigation.
BLAMING HINDUTVA GROUP CONVENIENT POLITICS?
The three murder cases – before Gauri Lankesh was killed – show remarkable similarity in their probe and political blame game. In all the murder cases, the investigation has not made concrete progress. Even conflicting claims were made by different probe teams.
In all the cases, the right-wing groups were blamed for the killings. The killers were not nabbed by probing agencies. The theory of right-wing killers suits the state government as it shifts the blame towards the Narendra Modi-led government and the BJP-RSS ideology.
While three of the four murders (Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh) took place under Congress governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra, Pansare was killed months after the BJP formed its government under Devendra Fadnavis.
All the state governments have been spared criticism for failing to ensure safety of eminent citizens and shoddy probe. Teams involved with Gauri Lankesh murder case may do well to focus on the fundamentals of criminal investigation and bring the culprits to justice.