Gauri Lankesh death probe: 7 among suspects, no solid evidence

Once quiet, civilised Bangalore is shaken to the core by the news of the shocking murder of its most famous journalist, Gauri Lankesh. In big cities and small towns across India thousands of people are protesting at the murder of a gutsy woman who fought for the marginalised, who called Dalit victims her sons, and who protested against injustice and venal politics in the face of death threats.

When you know someone, their death hits you harder. Lankesh was the recipient of endless hate mail from Hindu extremists. She was vilified on two fronts. She dared to take on the powerful Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), currently ruling most of India. She criticised them and their cohorts for attacking minorities and creating a culture that enabled lynching, mob violence and hate crimes. She also defended Dalit rights, provoking the ire of many dominant-caste Indians across the political spectrum.

BENGALURU: Seventy-two hours have passed by the time of filing this report and the police are none the wiser. On Friday, the government announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh+ for anyone providing information that would lead to arrests in the Gauri Lankesh murder case. The announcement came after home minister Ramalinga Reddy briefed CM about the status of the investigation.
It’s not difficult to see why the police are desperate for clues. Every evidence that the police were banking on (CCTV footage of house; of cameras along the way from Gauri’s Gandhi Bazaar office to RR Nagar home) has nearly hit a dead-end.
New angles have emerged after the special investigation team (SIT) pored over the CCTV footage once again on Friday, but there’s hardly anything to pursue. Some videos are doing the rounds of social media (showing “recreation of the crime scene”) but the police have advised people not to fall for such fake videos. What the actual footage shows is this:
* Gauri Lankesh arrives at her RR Nagar house at 8.09 pm on Tuesday (the actual time was 8.26 pm; police say there was some technical error in the CCTV setup at Gauri’s house).

* She parks her car right outside her gate and switches off the headlights. She sits in the car for two minutes (police don’t really know why).
* She then steps out, swings open the iron gate; she takes two steps holding the right portion of the gate.
* Just then, a light flashes on her car (the arrival of the killer on a bike since it’s a single head lamp). The bike is parked exactly behind the car (the killer probably knew that Gauri had installed CCTV cameras; this is why he took pains to hide his identity and that of his bike)
* The killer then walks up to Gauri and she turns towards him (police believe he might have addressed her)
* He then fires at her abdomen on the left; he can be seen within stabbing distance of Gauri in the CCTV footage. He fires another three shots
* Gauri loses her balance (perhaps due to the bullet injuries) and starts walking backwards (prelude to collapsing)
* The killer then fires at her chest (the post-mortem later revealed that the bullet pierced through her heart causing instant death)

The pot-bellied killer is actually wearing a backpack on the front side (to throw police off track; he doesn’t remove his helmet either). As soon as Gauri collapses, he escapes. After 30 seconds, another head lamp shines on the car. Police believe the killer backed up his two-wheeler and then accelerated which is why there is a 30-second lag; they are sure that there was only one killer on one bike (and not three killers as local residents reported earlier).
However, experts say that it will be difficult to draw a sketch of the killer from the grainy footage as he did a good job of hiding his identity.
The other clue that that police were banking on – CCTV footage from cameras along Gauri’s route – has also turned out to be a damp squib. Gauri did not take the route that is dotted with CCTV cameras. Instead, she weaved through smaller lanes to avoid traffic. Unfortunately, there are hardly any cameras along these lanes.
The police are now hoping for a miracle – maybe some resident or shopkeeper may turn over crucial footage that could be trapped in their cameras. From her Gandhi Bazaar office, Gauri passed through Dodda Ganapathi Temple; then she headed towards Giri Nagar via Hanumanth Nagar; then she reached Muneshwara Block and then reached close to Mysor Road; then she took another inner lane and emerged close to her house, avoiding the traffic at Rajarajeshwari Nagar Arch.
The police traced her route through various tower locations as her cell phone was active as she was driving. According to a senior officer, the weapon used in the murder is either of Indian or foreign make and not a country-made one as thought earlier. “We are awaiting the final forensic report on the weapon,” the officer said. Despite the vehement denials by former Naxalites who have now joined the mainstream, the police have not ruled out the role of ultra-Leftists in Gauri’s murder. In fact, SIT officers were handed various tasks by IGP BK Singh. One of the crucial tasks is that of coordinating with neighbouring states as some Naxals are active in Andhra. The SIT officers have drawn up a list of seven suspects (both Naxals and right-wingers) whom they plan to question soon. According to an officer, “there are more Naxal suspects than right-wingers”.

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