‘Hotte Manja’ – pot bellied Manja – is one of the many monikers for KT Naveen Kumar from Mandya. Known as ‘Anna’ to some, and ‘Hindu Yuva Sene Boss’ to others, the fringe right wing group man was taken into custody by the Bengaluru police on February 18 in an illegal arms case. And in the course of the interrogation, it emerged that this man may have had a role in one of the most gruesome murders of 2017: Naveen has been accused of being part of the gang that killed journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in September 2017.
According to sources, Naveen is the man seen on the CCTV footage around Gauri’s house between September 3 and September 5 – the man who was sent to recce the spot. Reports also suggest that Naveen could have been the one to drop the assailant, who finally shot Gauri, at her residence. He reportedly went underground following the killing, but surfaced in February when he was trying to sell a .32 calibre gun with live bullets.
But who is Naveen Kumar, the man who has emerged as the weakest link in the gang that attacked and murdered Gauri Lankesh? Where does he come from and what are his motivations?
This reporter visited Mandya, to find out more about this person of interest, whose custody has now revived hope that the ‘blind murder’ of Gauri Lankesh will finally be solved, and that the journalist-activist will get justice.
Who is Naveen Kumar?
Natives of Biroor in Chikmagalur district, Naveen Kumar and his family had moved to Mandya several years ago, and have been residing at Kestur in Pandavapura taluk. Naveen’s wife hails from Kadoor in Chikmagalur districts, and a few years ago, she relocated to Mangaluru with their child, and Naveen would visit the often.
When he reportedly went underground following the killing of Gauri Lankesh, this is where he lived, biding his time, hoping that he would be off the radar of the police.
The strongman older brother
In Pandavapura, Naveen and his brother Thimme Gowda are known as the local strongmen – they have been known to settle financial disputes between individuals, and Thimme Gowda, especially, is reportedly in the police radar. Although TNM could not confirm whether he is a history sheeter as per records, police sources said that he is a known thug in the area.
Thimme Gowda was close associated with the Jadeja Ravi gang of Mandya, a jurisdictional police officer told us. However, following the murder of the alleged rowdy-turned-Mandya-Municipal-Councillor Ravi in 2007, Thimme Gowda reportedly started operating on his own. “His brother Naveen simply followed in his older brother’s footsteps,” the official said.
Recently, when a local TV reporter reached out to the family's home at Kestur, Thimme Gowda allegedly manhandled the crew and attempted to destroy their recording equipment. "He was visibly agitated for our daring to visit their home. 'Go and interview Naveen, don't come here,’ he yelled," Shashi S said.
Naveen’s stint with Bajrang Dal
However, Naveen hasn’t just been in his brother’s shadow. According to local residents, Naveen was earlier associated with the local Bajrang Dal faction. But he would use violence on several occasions, and this, reportedly, alienated him from the organisation whose local leaders eventually kicked him out.
The Bajrang Dal, though, wants to distance itself from the man who got caught for Gauri Lankesh’s murder as much as possible. Speaking to this reporter, Bajarang Dal state coordinator Sharan Pumpwell said that he did not know of Naveen at all. “In Mandya, we don’t have a huge cadre base. As far as the arrested man was concerned, I have never heard of his name, not do I know about his activities. We will check with our Chikmagalur office anyway,” Sharan said.
Hindu Yuva Sene
After his stint with the Bajrang Dal, however, Naveen along with his brother went on to start an organisation: the Hindu Yuva Sene. While the agenda of this group is unclear, it consists mainly of college students and local youths. Some claim that this Hindu Yuva Sene is not linked to another fringe group by the same name.
According to local residents, the group was mostly involved in holding agitations on small political, religious and regional issues. At times, they also organised blood donation camps.
“Their strength may be around 40-50 people. Frankly, it is just another fringe group based out of Pandavapura,” said Ranjan Kumar, a local resident. “But they were quite efficient in mobilising crowd for local events,” he concedes.
Will he lead to the big fish?
According to reports, Naveen has also confessed to having links with prominent radical right wing outfits, and to gun dealers in north India. But reports also confirmed that he is neither the mastermind nor the main executor in the killing of the Gauri Lankesh killing. He’s merely the weakest link, who was careless enough to let the police get on his track.
But will he lead to the big fish in the Gauri murder conspiracy?
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