Gauri Lankesh’s murder is the story of a religious crime syndicate that plotted her assassination for over a year. It’s also the story of Parashuram Waghmore, who once raised a Pakistan flag to instigate a communal clash… Part 2 of our special series.

Stylised image of Parashuram Waghmore, the man who shot Gauri Lankesh dead.Parashuram Waghmore
Delve Gauri Lankesh Wednesday, September 14, 2022 - 16:03

At the age of 20, Parashuram Waghmore had dropped out of his B.Com course in a college in Raichur, and returned to his hometown of Sindagi where his family lived. A body-building enthusiast, Parashuram found employment with his uncle, who ran a utensil shop in the town. Young and yearning to do something more with his life, Parashuram readily agreed when a group of Sri Ram Sena members approached him to attend one of their meetings on protecting the Hindu religion. This was in the beginning of 2012, and in just a couple of weeks, Parashuram was so convinced by the group’s ideology that he was part of a team that hoisted a Pakistan flag outside the Tehsildar’s office in Sindagi, inciting a communal clash in the town.

Parashuram, along with his team, tried to make people believe that the flag was hoisted by Muslims. He was arrested for causing a communal clash, and spent three months in jail. But his time in jail did not deter him from pursuing his newfound calling for violent Hindutva after he was released. On the contrary, he found active encouragement from Hindutva extremists who were scouting for people to join them.

One such recruiter was Sujith Kumar alias Praveen from Karnataka, a member of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), an offshoot of the Goa-based hardline Hindutva group Sanatan Sanstha. Sujith, known to Parashuram as Praveen, was the scout for the team being put together by Amol Kale for the assassination of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh.

Parashuram was recruited into the assassination team in 2016. At this point, the body-building college dropout did not know who Gauri Lankesh was or why she was being targeted. Sujith had been grooming the young man for several years by then, and introduced him to Amol Kale — known to Parashuram only as ‘Bhai Saheb’.

According to a signed confession by Parashuram Waghmore given in police custody, which is part of the 10,000 page chargesheet filed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT), Amol Kale convinced Parashuram that it was his duty to kill Gauri Lankesh for her anti-Hindu views. “A country where farmers, women, saints, soldiers and the holy cow cannot lead a peaceful life will always be in the grip of chaos,” Amol reportedly told Parashuram to convince him to take up the mission.

 

As the trial in the Gauri Lankesh case progresses in a Bengaluru court, what has emerged is that the group behind Gauri’s killing did not assemble because they wanted to murder her — they came together years earlier in order to identify ‘deshdrohis’ (traitors), eliminate them, and establish a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

TNM is doing a series of stories on the Gauri Lankesh assassination case based on the chargesheet which is in Kannada. It is 10,000 pages long, spread over 15 volumes, and has the statements of the 17 men arrested for the journalist-activist’s murder. What motivated these men to come together? Why did they target Gauri Lankesh? Was it for money or ideology that Gauri was killed?

Part 2 is the story of how Gauri was killed – told through the story of Parashuram Waghmore, a college dropout turned Hindutva supporter who ultimately fired the bullets that killed Gauri Lankesh. To get Part 3 in your inbox, sign up now.

 

The Gauri Lankesh 18

The chargesheet in the Gauri Lankesh murder names 18 men — from mastermind Amol Kale (alias Bhai Saheb) to Bharath Kurane (alias Tomatar) who cooked for Gauri’s shooter and a few other associates while they were camped in Bengaluru. The affiliations of the 18 men were varied — some belonged to Sanatan Sanstha, others to HJS, and yet others to smaller Hindutva outfits like Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan.

Statements given by two key accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case — Amol Kale and Amith Degwekar — reveal that it was a man called Shashikant Rane who started putting together the group that targeted rationalists and writers at least nine years before Gauri Lankesh was killed. The group’s first victim was Narendra Dabholkar in 2013. This group was initially led by Virendra Tawde, alias Bade Bhai Saheb, until his arrest in 2016 by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with Dabholkar’s murder. The CBI told the Bombay High Court earlier this year that Tawde intended to eliminate people who he considered anti-Hindu, and said that releasing him is a threat to society.

The members of the group were trained in the use of pistols and making country bombs, according to investigators.

Following Tawde’s arrest, it was Amol Kale who revived the group, taking over as its commander and overseeing the addition of new recruits handpicked by his aide Sujith. His first target was Gauri Lankesh, the firebrand journalist-activist from Bengaluru, who edited the Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike.

Read: Why Gauri Lankesh was assassinated: The story of an indoctrinated engineer

More than a year before Gauri Lankesh was gunned down outside her residence in September 2017, the first plan to kill the journalist was allegedly hatched by Amol Kale in an apartment in Belagavi, 500 km north of Bengaluru. According to the police, the apartment belonged to Bharat Kurane alias Tomatar, and was at that point occupied by Sharad Kalaskar alias Chotu. Amol Kale showed a video clip of a speech made by Gauri Lankesh criticising Hinduism, to a room full of Hindutva extremists, declaring to the group that they will soon begin plotting to kill Gauri. Amol ended the meeting by asking Vikas Patil alias Dada, the only one among the group who is yet to be arrested, to find out where Gauri Lankesh lived.

With most of the group made up of people from Maharashtra and northern Karnataka, Vikas Patil sought out Suresh HL alias Teacher from the HJS, who lived in Seegehalli in the outskirts of Bengaluru. Initially a witness in the case, he is now accused of sheltering the Amol Kale group of conspirators during the planning of the murder, as well as of destroying evidence after the murder. He was also the one who first identified Gauri Lankesh’s home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in January 2017 for the criminal group.

Two months before Gauri Lankesh’s house was identified, Amol Kale was introduced to Parashuram Waghmore, who in Amol’s eyes was the final piece of the puzzle. The man who would ultimately pull the trigger to kill Gauri Lankesh.

From college dropout to Hindutva muscleman

Parashuram Waghmore earned the nickname ‘Builder’ due to his muscular physique and a penchant for bodybuilding. He was also a rowdy sheeter with cases against him in his hometown of Sindagi in Vijayapura, including the Pakistan flag hoisting case that led to his arrest.

In his confession statement, Parashuram said that he had protested alongside his friends from the Sri Ram Sena when a 14-year-old boy from his neighbourhood took his life after alleged abuse by Muslim boys. This incident, he said, further fuelled his resolve to 'fight for his religion.'

But it was not until October 2016 that Parashuram met Amol Kale, the alleged mastermind who planned Gauri Lankesh’s murder. “Bhai Saheb wants to talk to you,” Sujith Kumar told Parashuram, referring to Amol Kale.

Sujith Kumar was a HJS member from Karnataka and a recruiter for Amol Kale’s interstate group. The HJS is an off-shoot of the Goa-based hardline Hindutva group Sanatan Sanstha, whose members were arrested as suspects in four separate bombings in public places in Maharashtra and Goa between 2007 and 2009.

Parashuram came in contact with Sujith as early as 2013, after he wrote down his name and number on a volunteer sheet at a stall set up at a HJS event in Vijayapura’s Durbar Ground. Six months after he put his name down, he received a call from Sujith, who appreciated his work for the Hindutva cause in instigating a communal clash in Sindagi. “You need to continue your work and we will help you from our side,” Sujith told Parashuram in the first meeting that took place outside the Vijayapura district court.

After being released from jail in 2012, Parashuram tried his hand at a number of jobs, including going back to work in his uncle’s utensil business, working with an agency helping people sign up for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, and working as a supervisor at another uncle’s real estate office. But he found these jobs mundane, and increasingly devoted more time to his activities with the Sri Ram Sena until he, in his own words, quit the organisation in 2015. He also met with Sujith frequently, and the two had long conversations about Hindutva.

In this period, Sujith reportedly told Parashuram that to save Hindu religion, activities like New Year celebrations and Valentine’s Day celebrations needed to be stopped, as they were not part of the Hindu calendar. He also told him that the ‘scourge of Love Jihad’ — a right wing conspiracy theory claiming that Muslim men deliberately marry Hindu women to convert them to Islam — had to be stopped.

In October 2016, more than two years after their first meeting, Sujith told Parashuram that it was time for him to meet ‘Bhai Saheb’. Parashuram would never know Amol Kale’s real name during the entire operation. But in the very first conversation between ‘Bhai Saheb’ and ‘Builder’ that took place at a canteen near the bus stand in Hubballi town, Amol Kale told Parashuram that he had an important assignment for him, and that for the protection of Hindu religion, an ‘adharmi’ or ‘durjan’ had to be killed.

Parashuram had no idea who Gauri Lankesh was, and did not know anything about her body of work. But for the cause of Hindutva, he agreed to do Bhai Saheb’s bidding.

Diaries, code words and a hit list

Perhaps the most startling discovery made by the police in their investigation into Gauri Lankesh's murder is a diary recovered from the home of Amol Kale. The diary contained two lists, seemingly of people the conspirators wanted dead. Gauri’s name was second on one of the lists that had the names of prominent personalities including rationalist KS Bhagwan, playwright Girish Karnad, poet Chandrashekar Patil or Champa, and priest Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swamiji of the Nidumamidi math, all of whom were outspoken in their criticism of Hindutva.

Most of the members of the group of assassins were arrested in 2018 when they were plotting the murder of KS Bhagwan. However, the police took time to decipher the contents of the diary since the group communicated with each other using codewords and codenames. The members referred to each other with nicknames, often based on their physical traits or the Bollywood personalities they resembled. While Parashuram was called ‘Builder’, another accused Amit Baddi was called ‘Govinda’. Some others changed their names altogether — Sujith Kumar was called ‘Praveen’ and Amith Degwekar was called ‘Pradeep Mahajan’.

Even the language used in the diary was full of codewords — ‘Laddoo’ referred to a country bomb, ‘Sahitya’ referred to a pistol, and ‘Tuitions’ referred to learning about bomb-making.

‘Event’ was the codeword for attacking their chosen targets. A 2.5 Event was one in which they scared the target with a grievous wound or threatened with a petrol bomb. A 3.0 Event referred to killing the target with bullets.

The planning

After scoping out Gauri Lankesh's Bengaluru residence, the group reassembled in Belagavi to continue planning the assassination. In May 2017, at a farm owned by Bharat Kurane alias Tomatar in Khanapur in Belagavi, the main accused including Parashuram Waghmore were given arms training and target practice firing at trees with an air pistol. In the following month, Sujith Kumar teamed up with KT Naveen Kumar, a Hindutva supporter affiliated with Sri Ram Sena and HJS, and a gun-runner who arranged the guns and bullets to be used in the murder. Sujith was chosen as the custodian of the guns to be used in the murder.

In the last week of June 2017, the main conspirators of the murder, led by Amol Kale, arrived in Bengaluru to scope out the routes leading to Gauri Lankesh's house and minimise the CCTV trail.

They stayed at Suresh's residence in Seegehalli where Amol Kale reiterated the group’s responsibilities in the crime. It was decided that Ganesh Miskin alias Mithun will ride the bike to Gauri Lankesh's residence with the shooter Parashuram riding pillion. On one of their route rehearsals, Ganesh pointed out the target, Gauri Lankesh, to Parashuram Waghmore.

In mid-August 2017, a new accommodation was arranged in an acupuncture clinic in Kumbalagodu village closer to Gauri Lankesh's Rajarajeshwari Nagar residence. It was rented by Mohan Nayak, who was identified in Amol Kale's diaries as MN Sampa.

The plan for the murder was in place and the group decided, after watching Gauri Lankesh's movements, to target her when she returned home from her office in the evening.

The murder

In the first week of September 2017, Suresh and his family vacated their Seegehalli residence allowing Amol Kale and Vikas Patil to stay there. The other conspirators — Parashuram, Ganesh, Amit Baddi and Bharat — stayed at the acupuncture clinic in Kumbalagodu.

On September 4, 2017, with the plan for the murder in place, ‘Builder’ Parashuram Waghmore and ‘Mithun’ Ganesh Miskin set out on the routes they rehearsed, each wearing helmets to conceal their identities, and with two loaded pistols at the ready. They reached Gauri Lankesh's residence at 7.45 pm only to find the journalist already inside her house, leading them to abort their murder attempt.

A day later, on September 5, they set out again repeating their actions from the previous day. This time, Gauri Lankesh returned home from her newspaper office between 8 and 8.10 pm. Before she could open the gate to her house, Parashuram Waghmore took aim, his left leg forward and slightly bent for stability, and holding his country pistol with both hands. He fired four bullets at the journalist in quick succession. Three of the bullets hit her — on her back, on her left abdomen and on the right lateral aspect of her abdomen — instantly causing grievous injuries to her chest and stomach. She died on the spot.

With Gauri Lankesh lying dead at the entrance to her house, Parashuram Waghmore and Ganesh Miskin fled the spot and headed to their getaway vehicle waiting for them at an underpass on the Hemmigepura-Nice Road. The bullets and guns used in the murder were taken to Suresh's Seegehalli house, and Parashuram Waghmore and Ganesh Miskin soon departed for their hometowns.

Read Part 1 of the series: Why Gauri Lankesh was assassinated: The story of an indoctrinated engineer