Monday marks five years since rationalist and progressive thinker Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead in Pune in 2013. His murder was the first in a series of similar killings targeting rationalists and left-wing activists. Since then, Govind Pansare was killed in Kolhapur on February 20, 2015, rationalist MM Kalburgi was shot dead in Dharwad on August 30 the same year. And two years later, on September 5, 2017, journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in Bengaluru.
All four murders are being probed by different agencies. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating Dabholkar’s killing, the Maharashtra Special Investigation Team (SIT) is probing Pansare’s murder, while the Kalburgi case is being handled by Karnataka’s Crime Investigation Department (CID) and the Gauri Lankesh murder case by Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT).
Now, five years after the murder of Narendra Dabholkar, two suspects have finally been arrested in the case. On Saturday, the CBI arrested Sachin Prakashrao Andhure, a 28-year-old man in Maharashtra, after the Karnataka SIT probing Gauri Lankesh’s murder tipped off the central agency sleuths. This was followed by the arrest of Srikanth Pangarkar, former Shiv Sena corporator in Jalna Municipal Corporation in connection with the huge cache of explosives found by Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) earlier this month in Pune. The ATS had also arrested Vaibhav Raut, Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanwa Gondhalekar earlier in August after the SIT probing Gauri’s case had tipped them off about the huge cache of illegal arms in the trio’s possession.
Following his arrest, Sharad Kalaskar allegedly confessed to his role in Narendra Dabholkar’s murder and also revealed Sachin’s involvement in the murder.
According to CBI sources, Sharad and Sachin boarded a state transport bus from Aurangabad to Pune on the night of August 19, 2013. The duo got off at Pune's Shivajinagar Bus Stand in the morning of August 20, 2013. Sources say that the duo had already conducted a thorough recce of the bridge where Dabholkar went for a morning walk. They had already parked a getaway motorcycle at a mall near Omkareshwar Bridge where Dabholkar was killed.
Around 7 am, Sharad and Sachin allegedly reached the mall and drove to the Omkareshwar bridge and waited for Dabholkar.
When they saw Dabholkar at around 7.10 am, they confirmed his identity and ran up to him. Sharad is said to have allegedly shot Dabholkar twice, while Sachin allegedly fired one shot. Two of the three shots hit Dabhokar's head and he collapsed on the spot. The two men then got onto the motorcycle and escaped.
Sources say that they allegedly took a route to avoid being detected by cameras. The duo then boarded a bus back to Aurangabad at 5pm the same day.
Upon Sachin and Sharad’s arrest, the investigators confirmed that the duo allegedly killed Dabholkar as their procured confessions matched the CBI’s crime scene reconstruction.
Link between Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh murders
Sources say that Dr Virendrasinh Tawde, one of the prime accused in Dabhlhar’s murder, who was arrested in 2016 and Amol Kale, one of the alleged masterminds of Gauri's murder had allegedly ordered Sharad and Sachin to shoot Dabholkar. The CBI now wants custody of Kale for further investigation, sources say.
“We are in constant touch with other investigative agencies who are probing the Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi murders. The entire investigation will be wrapped up in a few months,” sources with the SIT probing Gauri Lankesh’s murder said.
Link between Gauri, Pansare and Kalburgi murders
Within days of Gauri Lankesh’s murder, the Karnataka SIT had become aware of the killers’ involvement in the murder of rationalist and writer MM Kalburgi. It was the arrest of Amol Kale in June that helped unravel the connections between the four murders and a larger plot to allegedly kill other rationalists, say sources. Amol Kale had allegedly helped recruit others in connection with Gauri’s murder.
“There was obviously a link between all the four murders. When SIT questioned Amol Kale regarding the use of the same weapon in both Gauri’s and Kalburgi’s murder, he told the investigators that the weapon was named Sudarshan Chakra after Lord Krishna’s weapon. They believed that the weapon was auspicious and was the one which would help them achieve their goal. They believed that weapon had mythical powers,” an SIT source said.
Speaking to TNM, a source in the Karnataka CID alleged that political interests had clouded the investigation into Pansare’s murder, which had in turn hampered the probe into Kalburgi’s murder.
“The CID had wanted custody of Sameer Gaikwad, the prime accused in Pansare’s murder when he was arrested in 2015 by the Maharashtra SIT. Although, we could only visit him in the prison in Satara, Gaikwad’s behaviour was peculiar. He would go into meditation when any questions were asked. Also, one thing which is noteworthy is that exactly a year after Gaikwad’s release, Gauri was killed,” a CID source said.
The investigators in Pansare’s murder are now in full swing after of the Bombay High Court rapped the Maharashtra SIT. Sources say that the sleuths suspect Vaibhav Raut, who was arrested by Maharashtra ATS for illegal arms earlier in August, is connected to Gaikwad.
Sources also revealed that those who shot Dhabolkar had undergone firearms training in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Furthermore, the Karnataka SIT suspects it was the same group which was involved in firearms training for all four murders.
A source in Karnataka SIT says the breakthrough came in the form of Amol Kale’s diary.
“Amol Kale’s diary was the main source of information. We found multiple phone numbers and names of other pro-Hindutva activists, whom he had recruited for killing other rationalists and progressive thinkers. It was these phone numbers and SIM cards which led to the arrest of the Vaibha Raut and two others. Now, it remains to be seen whether any of the guns seized from Raut’s possession recently match the bullet casings found near Gauri Lankesh’s house,” an SIT source said.
Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru’s Rajarajeshwarinagar on the night of September 5, 2017. The SIT has so far arrested 12 persons in connection with the crime and are expected to make three more arrests soon.