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

The 10,000-page chargesheet in the Gauri Lankesh murder case is essentially the story of three men. The first one is Amol Kale.
Stylised image of Amol Kale.
Stylised image of Amol Kale.
Written by:

This is part 1 of a three-part series on the Gauri Lankesh murder. Read part 2 here and part 3 here.

Amol Kale was a 23-year-old mechanical engineer working in a multinational company in Pune when he went to a Shiva temple for a prayer meeting. Here, he met a charismatic couple with whom he had a deep conversation about Hinduism. This moment in 2003 changed Amol’s life so much that soon he decided that he would adopt a profoundly spiritual Hindu way of life. He quit his job, started selling books about spirituality, joined satsangs (religious events) and listened to speeches promoting violent Hindutva. Amol’s spiritual journey led him down a path of violent indoctrination — and he is a big reason why journalist Gauri Lankesh was assassinated in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017.

“If anyone said anything insulting about the Hindu religion, I would get very upset. I would have thoughts of taking violent actions against such people,” Amol told the investigators in the Gauri Lankesh assassination, according to the 10,000-page chargesheet filed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT), in the case. The SIT, which has arrested 17 people in connection with the murder of the fiery activist-journalist, has pegged Amol Kale as the mastermind behind the crime. Of the 17 people arrested, Amol is the only one who is also involved in the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabolkar and Govind Pansare, and in the plot to kill rationalist KS Bhagwan. Investigating officers found Amol to be the toughest person to interrogate, as he reportedly chanted mantras in his prison cell and refused to answer when he was questioned.

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’, eliminate them, and establish a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

And the trigger for this group to identify Gauri as a target was not her extensive body of journalistic work, but a short video clip of an irreverent speech she made about Hinduism.

The radicalisation of Amol Kale

Before his tryst with the Hindutva ideology, Amol was just another young engineer in Pune living with his family. After Amol met the couple at a temple in Pimpri in the city during a satsang event, he started reading more books on Hinduism including the Kshaatra Dharma Sadhana — a booklet published by Sanatan Sanstha founder Jayant Balaji Athavale in 1995. This booklet defines ‘durjan’ and ‘sadhak’ as two parts of society — where ‘durjan’ refers to an ‘evil doer’, and ‘sadhak’ refers to a ‘person who follows the path of Hinduism’.

There are many kinds of ‘durjan’ according to the booklet, including rashtradrohis and deshadrohis (traitors against the nation), and dharmadrohis (traitors against dharma, or religion). The author Jayant Balaji Athavale was a hypnotist, and spoke about ‘evil energies’ in the ‘durjan’ that make them commit treason against the religion and the nation. And the only way to eliminate such ‘evil energy’, according to the booklet, is to kill the ‘durjan’. “Such durjan must be killed, otherwise they will kill the sadhaks and establish their Asuri Rajya here,” the book says, demonising anyone who doesn’t prescribe to Athavale’s version of Hindutva.

This booklet, Kshaatra Dharma Sadhana, became a manifesto for Amol Kale and the execution of ‘durjan’ the calling of his life.

Athavale’s organisation Sanatan Sanstha is a hardline Hindutva extremist group based in Goa. Established in 1990 as a charitable trust, the Sanstha maintained secrecy around its ashram located in Ponda, Goa. Between 2007 and 2009, the Sanstha’s members were arrested as suspects in four separate bombings of public places in Maharashtra and Goa.

The Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka governments had submitted a lengthy dossier to the Union Home Ministry calling for a ban on the organisation in 2011. The request was ignored and the group continued to operate.

Over the next six years, the group’s members emerged as prime suspects behind the murders of four prominent secular thinkers – Dabholkar, Pansare, Lankesh and also MM Kalburgi.

This group began taking shape as early as 2008, when Amith Degwekar alias Pradeep Mahajan, a resident of the Sanatan Sanstha ashram, first spotted Amol Kale at a satsang in Sindhudurg in Maharashtra.

The duo got along and began travelling together in the state taking part in religious events. It is in this period that Amol became an active member of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, considered an off-shoot of the Sanatan Sanstha, and came in contact with Shashikant Rane alias Kaka, the late editor of the Sanatan Prabhat, a mouthpiece of the Sanstha.

Statements given by two key accused persons in the Gauri Lankesh murder case reveal that it was Shashikant Rane who put together the group that targeted rationalists and writers, before he died of a heart attack in 2018.

Rane told Amol that the Hindu religion was under threat and that justice through the legal system was not possible. The only option, Rane said, was to band together and organise Hindu men to fight for the religion. Rane introduced Amol to Virendra Tawde, alias Bade Bhaisaab, who at the time was recruiting men for the same purpose – to fight for the religion and establish a ‘Hindu rashtra’.

Why Gauri Lankesh was targeted

Gauri was a firebrand journalist and activist who started the Kannada language tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike following in her father's footsteps. Her father P Lankesh, a renowned poet and writer, had earlier started the Lankesh Patrike in 1980. Following his death in 2000, Gauri left a promising career in English language journalism to edit her father’s newspaper, before starting one in her own name.

Gauri mostly wrote in Kannada, her writing known for strong language and fearless criticism of the right-wing. Though her newspaper’s circulation was only around 10,000, her political activism and her impassioned defence of minority rights made her a popular figure in Karnataka.

Her significance extended beyond her role as an editor. She was an effective political organiser who had the ability to bring together sparring social and political groups, including Dalits, tribals, Leftists, Muslims, and those opposed to the Hindu right.

However, it was a video of Gauri’s speech that first made her a target — a ‘durjan’ — in Amol Kale’s eyes. In a speech she made in Mangaluru, Gauri described the Hindu religion as an orphan. “Who fostered the Hindu religion? This is a religion without a father or a mother. There is no good scripture in it. There is no such thing as ‘Hindu religion’. This is something that came about after the British came here. Is this even a religion?” she reportedly said.

An angry Amol used this video to mobilise his group of co-conspirators, including the man who eventually shot Gauri — Parashuram Waghmore.

Amol showed a video clip of this speech to his secret group more than a year before Gauri was killed. He told the group that she must be killed for her anti-Hindu views. “If she is allowed to talk like this, she will cause bad opinion to be formed about Hinduism in society,” Amol reportedly said.

Who are these men, when did Amol Kale meet them, and how did they plot the killing of Gauri Lankesh? A longer story on the year-long plot to kill Gauri Lankesh, and the one man who is still absconding, coming up soon.

This is part 1 of a three-part series on the Gauri Lankesh murder. Read part 2 here and part 3 here.

Prajwal Bhat is a journalist covering human rights and civil liberties in Karnataka.

With inputs from Sanyukta Dharmadhikari and Sathya Rani N.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute