Bengaluru: Four days after 37-year-old KT Naveen Kumar was taken into custody by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in connection with journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder, two larger questions still loom – What was he doing with 15 cartridges and how did he get access to it?
Kumar, who was picked up for illegal possession of bullets of the same kind that were used to kill Lankesh, is an ammunition supplier. However, he did not even possess a weapon when he was caught in the bustling Majestic bus station here in Bengaluru. While the SIT has taken him into custody for eight days, it is yet not known whether the team is ready to directly charge him with any offence later this week or will they seek extension of custody to question him for more days.
The reason to seek extension of custody is to find out answers to larger questions. Sources said that the SIT is intrigued by two things. First, why did Kumar need these bullets? And secondly, was he ferrying it to someone for something? If so, what?
It is the pre-supposition that he could have possibly been aiding or abetting another hit-job that has put the SIT on his trail now – why else would anyone need bullets, unless he was either using them or supplying them to someone?
“We know that country-made guns are easily available as there is a network of tribals who manufacture these in Madhya Pradesh, and they supply these weapons to people in north Karnataka. But the bullets don’t come easy. You have to procure bullets only from licensed dealers and those who take their supply from Ordnance factories. So, where did Naveen get his supply from, and for what, is the question,” said a Crime Branch official, who was part of the first team that arrested him on February 19.
While someone can possibly access gunpowder and cartridges, it is next to impossible to manufacture the small metal pin known as the percussion cap, which are the trigger points for these bullets – these are only made in Ordnance factories, and then supplied to licenced arms dealers/ shops under regulated methods.
For someone to access 15 of the 0.32 revolver bullets could not have been easy. This supply chain is another element of the investigation – just as they have cracked down on the gun-dealers of north Karnataka over the last four months.
Even as it was being said that Kumar is affiliated with right-wing Hindu organizations, Hindu Rakshana Vedike in Karnataka distanced itself from Kumar even as it was being that he is affiliated with right-wing Hindu organizations.
Sources said that Kumar had floated his own Hindu outfit called the ‘Hindu Yuva Sene’ a few years ago. “He has been under surveillance ever since he reportedly boasted to a friend about the bullets he possessed and how he was planning another job,” they said.
Kumar has been linked to members who are close to radical Hindutva groups like the Sanatan Sanstha – which has been under the scanner of investigating authorities elsewhere, for suspected roles in the killings of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar in Maharashtra.
The SIT is now trying to ascertain the identity of other suppliers to apprehend all involved in the killing. Call data records of course are being scanned as in any investigation – and the last number of calls that Kumar has been receiving from public call booths has led to greater suspicions on who he was dealing with.
“The only persons who still use public call phones are those who want to maintain anonymity. So this is something we are working on, but it is taking its time as he has received calls from ten different places, some of them far from each other, while he himself resided with his wife in Birur in Chikkamagalur,” said the crime branch officer.
Who could be possible targets?
In the last four months, there have been at least three persons who have either directly faced threats or against whom there has been a threat perception. Two of them – a current MLC and a retired IAS officer –are persons prominently working for a separate religion status for the Lingayat community and have talked about how they received blank calls.
A third is an academic who lives in Mysore – Prof K S Bhagwan, who was directly threatened on social media within two days of the murder of Prof M M Kalburgi in Dharwad in August 2015. Known as a rationalist and researcher who has questioned Hindu beliefs and published books on the same, he has often got on the wrong side of Hindutva proponents and he was even accorded security by the police for the open threats he received at the time.
What the SIT is now probing is if indeed Prof Bhagwan was next on the target list – since those who plotted the Lankesh killing may have been emboldened by the fact that the trail has run cold – or if there are others too who could be on their radar.