Lankesh, a progressive activist and editor of Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike, was shot down by two assailants, part of an alleged larger conspiracy to take out anti-Hindutva voices, outside her home in Raja Rajeshwari Nagar on 5 September, 2017.
The case, that shook the collective conscience of the country, will now have to withstand the scrutiny in the courts when it heads to trial and hope that the effort by the special investigation team (SIT), formed to probe the high profile murder, pays off.
“A good validation of our efforts would be the conviction," said a senior police official, requesting not to be named.
Ever since the SIT filed a 9,325-page charge sheet last November, a strong defence team has been trying to dismantle the allegations made by the investigating team. The culprits were nabbed with a mix of traditional policing that involved a core team of around 80 people and using advanced technology like Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, gait analysis and DNA profiling among other scientific methods to ensure that the criminals are punished.
“Gauri will not get justice by putting some people in jail," Kanhaiya Kumar, the Communist Party of India (CPI) candidate from Begusarai in the Lok Sabha elections and close aide of the slain activist said on Thursday in Bengaluru.
“Gauri will get justice when the idea of justice and equality has been protected," he said at an event to commemorate Lankesh.
The defence, a battery of lawyers from right wing organisations, have alleged a conspiracy to target pro-Hindutva groups and are confident of coming out of the case unscathed.
The chargesheet names 18 people, of which two are still at large, have been accused of indoctrination, conspiracy, undergoing weapons procurement and training, mobilisation of funds and carrying out the murder among other charges.
The police now claim to have that the murder weapons were thrown in the Vasai Creek, between Mumbai-Thane highway, and have to recover the country made 7.65 mm guns that would help the prosecution. But it is yet to get to the task at hand due to heavy rains and full flow in the river that will add to the challenge.
But the wait continues as the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime (KCOCA) is heard in the already overworked Principal Sessions Court, Balan said.
“We have to see whether the government can come forward and constitute a special court to dispose off this case," S.Balan, the prosecution lawyer said.
The SIT, probing Lankesh’s case, were able to detect and avert plots to kill other rationalists in the state as well. It had also managed to file a charge sheet in the Kalburgi case, that had hit a dead end, after it discovered some of the members involved in the Lankesh case had killed the rationalist in Dharwad as well.
“We hope that the trial goes faster and sister gets justice," Kavita Lankesh, Gauri’s sister said.
The case is likely to take longer as the murder is now linked with at least two others before Gauri.
During the event, she reiterated the demand for a special court to hear Gauri’s murder trial as well as those of at least three others and other conspiracies.
Lankesh’s murder was likened to the killings of three other rationalists, that began with Narendra Dabholkar, founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS, or Maharashtra Eradication of Superstition Committee) on 20 August 2013 in Pune, while he was out on his morning walk.
The Dabholkar killing was followed by the assassination of two more rationalist thinkers—senior Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Govind Pansare on 16 February 2015 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra and M.M.Kalburgi on 30 August 2015 in Dharwad, Karnataka.
Balan says that most of the accused are associated with Goa-based radical right wing organisation, Sanathan Sanstha.
Police officials say that they can only arrest the people but not the ideology as the likes of Amol Kale and Amit Degwekar among other arrested have already been completely indoctrinated, that they have already achieved their aim and that god will take care of their families, leaving the SIT little to work with in trying to reform the killers.
The SIT said that the group was inspired by the book, ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’ , brought out by the Sanstha.
“In the larger picture we want everyone to get justice and that and these kinds of heinous crimes are stopped," she had earlier told Mint.