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Probe into plot to kill another rationalist may have led police to ‘Lankesh murder mastermind’

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Praveen, suspected to be one of the top recruiters of the gang, was among those who identified the radical thinkers to be ‘eliminated’, say police sources.

Bengaluru: The man believed to have masterminded the murder of Kannada journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh has allegedly coughed up an entire hit list in his confession.

Praveen alias Sujeet Kumar of Karnataka was one of four people arrested earlier this month for an alleged conspiracy to murder rationalist K.S. Bhagwan. The other three have been identified as Amol Kale from Chinchwad in Maharashtra, Manohar Edave from Bijapur in Karnataka, and Amit Digwekar from Ponda in Goa. They are all reportedly associated with the Goa-based Hindutva organisation Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS).

According to police sources, Praveen, suspected to be one of the top recruiters of the gang, was among those who identified the radical thinkers to be “eliminated”. Digwekar is reportedly an employee of the Sanathan Sanstha and the editor of its mouthpiece, ‘Sanathan Prabhat’.

Praveen was allegedly linked to the Lankesh case through K.T. Naveen Kumar, a gun runner arrested in March, who has been charged with the cold-blooded murder of the journalist outside her home in September 2017.

While the charge sheet filed Wednesday by the Karnataka special investigation team looking into Lankesh’s murder names only Naveen so far, Praveen is likely to be listed as a co-accused soon.

The 650-page chargesheet details Naveen’s “direct involvement” in the Lankesh murder. He has been charged under sections 302 (murder), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 118 (concealing a conspiracy) and 114 (abetment to the crime) of the IPC, and also under provisions of the Arms Act.

How the alleged mastermind was caught?

A native of Shikaripura in Shimoga district, Praveen initially pursued a diploma in polytechnic but failed to complete it. He then came into contact with several local Hindutva outfits and attended a few workshops of the Sanatan Sanstha in Ponda.

Naveen was reportedly an active member of the Karnataka-based HJS, and said to be in constant touch with Praveen after the attack on Lankesh. It was allegedly his “satisfaction” with the execution of Lankesh’s murder that led Praveen to reportedly give Naveen a new target in Bhagwan.

Police began tracking Praveen after Naveen, who was arrested in March, reportedly named him and the others during his interrogation. Praveen had reportedly gone underground by then, but police kept in touch with some of his relatives for the three months he was under the radar.

When Praveen re-surfaced in the last week of April, the SIT placed him under physical surveillance. Armed with photographs from his Goa meetings, and based on his communication with Kale, Digwekar and Edave, Praveen was arrested on 20 May. The three others were caught the next day.

Police recovered 15 mobile phones from Praveen and 25 SIM cards from Kale.

The SIT will now continue to investigate whether the accused are also linked to the murders of rationalists Dr M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, all of whom are suspected to have been killed for questioning orthodox beliefs.

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