New Delhi/Bengaluru: As protests over the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh raged across the country, the home ministry on Wednesday stepped in and sought a detailed report from the Karnataka government.
Sources said home minister Rajnath Singh directed home secretary Rajiv Gauba to seek a report on the murder from the Karnataka government. Further action, officials added, will depend on the report. If required, the home ministry could issue an “advisory” to the state.
The Karnataka government on Wednesday morning announced that a Special Investigation Team (SIT), led by the IGP of the intelligence wing, B.K. Singh, will probe Lankesh’s assassination. DCP M.N. Anucheth will be the chief investigation officer in the case. These two officers will oversee a team of 19 officers.
The forensics report on Lankesh, who was shot dead on Tuesday night, reveal that a country-made firearm was used, raising the possibility that her killers could be Naxalites, although investigators refused to categorically blame the ultras this early in the probe.
Sources with access to the forensics report told this newspaper that after a two-hour long post-mortem at the city’s Victoria Hospital, the autopsy showed three bullet injuries.
“The injuries do not match injuries inflicted by a conventional or branded firearm,” the autopsy report concluded. This raises “the possibility that the killers may not be from the same group as those who eliminated Prof M.M. Kalburgi, who was shot dead with a 7.65mm caliber pistol,” an official source said.
“The police is looking into all possible theories — of her alleged involvement in any property dispute within the family or outside, whether Gauri’s involvement in the surrender of Naxalites had triggered any violent reaction from those who are still in the outlawed movement and felt threatened by their comrades, who have laid down arms with her assistance.”
“The third possibility is that she may have been done in by an extremist Right wing ideologue for her openly aired views against Hindutva forces in her writings and on social media. She along with other writers had opposed the arrest of Kannada novelist Yogesh Master in 2013 for his controversial book Dhundi in which he had portrayed Lord Ganesha in poor light,” said the officer.
Hundreds gathered to pay their respects to Lankesh, who was buried on Wednesday evening with full state honours at a cemetery in Bengaluru’s Chamarajpet. The police gave a gun salute to Lankesh. She was 55.
There were chants of “Gauri Lankesh amar rahe (Long live Gauri Lankesh)” as the journalist’s body was lowered into the grave. There were no religious rituals at the funeral. “She was a rationalist and we do not want to go against her ideologies,” said Lankesh’s brother.
Karnataka CM, along with several ministers, was present at the cemetery. With the Assembly elections approaching, a lot hinges on the outcome of the probe. Till that happens, Lankesh’s shocking murder is expected to be used by both the parties — the BJP and the Congress.
While the BJP has already begun blaming the “deteriorating law and order situation in Karnataka” for the murder, the Congress has pinned the blame on saffronites for “unleashing a reign of terror.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said that “anyone speaking against BJP, RSS gets killed”. Union minister Nitin Gadkari denied the involvement of any saffron activist in the murder of the senior journalist. Condemning the attack, both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi said that they have spoken with Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and asked him to ensure that the “guilty are apprehended immediately.”
Mr Gandhi also attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “prevailing atmosphere” in the country.
“When, sometimes, the Prime Minister feels there is too much pressure to speak, he says something. But the entire ideology is to crush dissent and this is resulting in a serious problem in India. The idea is there should be only one voice in this country… that is just not the nature of this country,” he said.
The BJP hit back saying Mr Gandhi was trying to “politicise the murder.”
Bengaluru Lok Sabha MP and Union Minister Ananth Kumar hit out at the Karnataka chief minister for the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. “There have been 18-19 political murders, including that of rationalist M. M. Kalburgi, in the state in the last two-and-a-half years. The state government should conduct a swift probe,” he said.
Information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani, while condemning the attack, asked the state government to “ensure a speedy investigation to deliver justice.”
Apart from the Congress, the Left parties also blamed rightwing forces for the killing. The CPI questioned the Prime Minister’s and the RSS chief’s silence. CPI MP D. Raja said, “The right-wing fascist forces have become so aggressive that they are taking law into their hands. This attack is part of their sinister design”.
There were protests and candlelight vigils in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee participated.
“Namma Gauri” (I Am Gauri) said large posters in Bengaluru as protesters denounced intolerance and any threat to free speech.
The Press Council of India expressed concern and sought a detailed report from the state government, and the Delhi Press Club organised a meeting to protest the killing.