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Police lost track of Gauri Lankesh murder suspect after Hindu Right-wing leader’s arrest

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SIT says news of Hindu Yuva Sene founder’s arrest could have alerted the suspect, who had been under police surveillance for months.

Bengaluru: Even as the special investigation team (SIT) probing the Gauri Lankesh murder case laid a trap to nab one of the suspects, he became untraceable as soon as media started reporting about the arrest of Hindu Yuva Sene founder K.T. Naveen Kumar, ThePrint has learnt.

According to sources in the SIT, the suspect who had been under surveillance for months was expected to attend a wedding in Bengaluru. His arrival was confirmed as he was in constant touch with his associates. However, as soon as the news of Kumar arrest came out in media, police lost track of him.

The SIT, however, played down this episode. “This cannot be considered a setback to our investigation; rather we are in the advanced stages of our case and we are confident that we will close this case soon,” said an officer speaking on condition of anonymity.

Police sources confirmed that Kumar had revealed his plan to one of his confidantes about how he was set to carry out another murder like that of Gauri. Kumar who was already on the crime branch’s radar was arrested and questioned about his links to illegal arms trade. He was then handed over to the SIT. Several arms dealers were put under surveillance as well.

The sources said Kumar’s next target was K.S. Bhagwan, a Mysuru-based writer and rationalist. During interrogation, Kumar also spilled the beans about how he procured illegal weapons, which the police suspect, could also have been supplied to Gauri’s killers.

The SIT is yet to confirm any direct link between Kumar and Gauri’s killers, but sources close to the investigation said his custody has helped them strengthen their case.

The 37-year-old Kumar allegedly bears a striking resemblance to the man who was caught in CCTV footage conducting a recce near Gauri’s house. He was arrested by the Bengaluru police on 18 February with 15 rounds of .32 calibre cartridges.  The same kind of ammunition was used to kill Lankesh.

Investigation into Kumar’s antecedents have led the police to suspect that the Hindu Yuva Sene, which he set up in 2015,  was in fact a vast extortion network. Though he hailed from Maddur, Kumar was living with his family in Birur town in Chickamagaluru district, from where he had been dealing in illegal arms and ammunition. Notably, there were no previous cases registered against him.

Kumar has allegedly confessed to the police about his elaborate plans to eliminate Bhagwan, who like Lankesh had been very outspoken about his views on religion and Hindu beliefs. After the killing of another rationalist-freethinker  Dr M.M. Kalburgi , Bhagwan received several threat calls and a letter stating he would meet the same fate as Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi did.

Police investigation has revealed that Kumar had been an active participant in several religious and social activities of the Sanatan Sanstha. Inspired by them, he started the Hindu Yuva Sena in Maddur.

The police have also found literature and videos of the Goa headquartered Hindutva outfit at Kumar’s residence. The needle of suspicion has always pointed towards Sanatan Sanstha, especially after one of their outfit member Samir Gaikwad was arrested for his alleged involvement in the killing of Govind Pansare.

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