Nearly five years after she was gunned down, the trial in the Gauri Lankesh assassination case began at a lower court in Bengaluru on Monday, July 4 with the slain journalist’s sister Kavitha Lankesh being subjected to intense cross-examination by defense lawyers. The lawyers representing the accused sought to deflect attention from the Hindutva groups allegedly behind the murder and instead suggested that the journalist had Naxal links.
According to the chargesheet filed by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka police, the conspiracy involved 18 men belonging to a secretive group that targeted people they considered “anti-Hindu”. Of them, one person, Vikas Patil alias Dada alias Nihal is still at large.
The SIT investigation found that the plot was hatched by Amol Kale alias Topiwala alias Bhai Saheb, a former leader of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti which is affiliated to the Sanatan Sanstha. He is alleged to have arranged for the killers to be trained and provided with weapons. The SIT was given a cash award for cracking the case by the state government as well as the Union Home Minister’s medal for excellence for 2019.
Seeking to distance Hindutva groups from the case, advocate P Krishnamurthy listed out some of the most prominent intellectuals of Karnataka who Gauri was friends with and claimed that they were Naxal sympathisers. This included the late freedom fighter H S Doreswamy, the late playwright and Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad, social commentator Chandan Gowda and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani.
Persisting with this line amid objections from the prosecution, the defense asked Kavitha if Gauri had angered the Naxals by facilitating the surrender of some ultras. The lawyers also asked Kavitha to explain the nature of the relationship Gauri shared with Jignesh Mewani and former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar who the slain journalist often described as her ‘ideological sons’. Invoking a Hindutva metaphor, the lawyer asked Kavitha if these were the same people who belonged to the “tukde-tukde gang”. The judge overruled this line of questioning, saying it is irrelevant to the case.
One of the defense lawyers, Gangadhar Shetty representing the accused Rishikesh Deodikar was reigned-in by the court after he claimed that Gauri was close to several Congress leaders. Asking him to be specific, judge CM Joshi said, “Without names, this bears no weight.” The lawyer responded by naming Congress leaders Ramesh Jarkiholi (now BJP leader), Umashree, Vinay Kulkarni, SS Mallikarjun, Pramod Madhwaraj (now BJP leader) and Tanveer Sait.
The defense lawyers also questioned Kavitha about differences within the Lankesh family, particularly between Gauri and her brother Indrajit Lankesh who ran a rival Kannada daily. After the death of their father and journalist P Lankesh, Gauri founded her own tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike while Indrajit retained the original title Lankesh Patrike run by their father. The defense lawyers questioned Kavitha about the properties belonging to them, including the office of her newspaper in Basavangudi in Bengaluru.
Earlier in the day, the court began proceedings by recording the evidence from court witness number four Anil Kumar, who was a close associate of KT Naveen Kumar, whose arrest in February 2018 for possession of illegal arms unraveled the entire plot.