On the death anniversary of slain journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh on September 5, while her friends, family and admirers held a day-long 'Gauri Day' celebration, another group decided to mark the day differently, and in outrageously poor taste.
Extreme-right organisations like the Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi and Sri Rama Sene held a joint protest march from Bannappa Park to Freedom Park in Bengaluru, where slogans hailing the accused in Gauri murder case were heard.
Among the 12 accused arrested by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the case, protestors chanted names of accused Amol Kale, Parashuram Waghmare, Naveen Kumar, Sujith and Manohar Yavade and chorused 'Zindabad' to laud them.
The rally that lasted close to five hours also blamed the SIT of framing the accused to suit a political narrative which the protestors claim has been handed to the investigators by the state government. Apart from venting their ire against the Karnataka government and police officials, the protesters also chose to target the media calling the fourth estate as 'Hindu Virodhi'.
In press conferences held in Bengaluru over the last five months, representatives of several right-wing organisations like Pramod Muthalik and Mohan Gowda have vehemently defended the accused and alleged that the Congress and JDS which are in power in Karnataka are misleading the probe for political gain. While they have maintained that the accused were not known to them, they have persisted to vouch for their innocence, accusing the SIT of botching up the probe to accommodate a narrative. Yet, Wednesday’s rally was the first time that slogans praising the accused were heard.
Speaking to Republic TV, Mohan Gowda, president of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, said, 'I want to clarify that the accused behind Gauri Lankesh's murder are part of Hindu organisations that had no criminal cases registered against them before the assassination. Waghmare is innocent in all the cases registered against him. It is a pure conspiracy plotted against the Hindu right-wing groups. The accused have been threatened by SIT and were given third-degree treatment. This is clearly a violation of human rights. Until the court's verdict, the all the accused are innocent'.
Defence counsel for the accused, Amruthesh NP, spun an unsubstantiated theory that 'cases are being filed against Hindu activists to defame the movement'. 'Instead of harassing our activists, why is the SIT not questioning Gauri's sister? That will bring out the real plot behind murder', he claimed.
This came even as SIT sources have confirmed to Republic TV that the investigators believe that the organisation and motive behind the murders of Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi too are the same.
The SIT has come to the conclusion that Amith Degwekar, one of the accused, was the mastermind behind the murders of Pansare and Dabholkar and was trusted with the task of the assassination of not just Gauri Lankesh but a list of 36 writers, activists and rationalists residing in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The SIT has reportedly received an affirmation from the forensic lab that the Parushuram Waghmare is the man seen in the CCTV footage released last year. The CBI team probing the murders of Pansare and Dabholkar has sought custody of three of the accused in Gauri murder case to interrogate them about their alleged link to the shootings of Pansare and Dabholkar.