Dada, the ‘big brother’ accused in Gauri Lankesh murder case, still absconding after 6 years

The murder weapon — a 7.65 mm country-made pistol — is also still missing, which could have the potential to affect the verdict in the case.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Sep 05, 2023 | 8:00 AMUpdatedSep 05, 2023 | 4:36 PM

Gauri Lankesh

It has been six years now since journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh (55) was gunned down on 5 September, 2017, on the doorsteps of her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, a western suburb of Bengaluru.

Yet, one among the 18 accused — Vikas Patil alias Dada (Big Brother) alias Nihal (A-15) — remains absconding.

Officials of the Special Investigating Team (SIT) set up to probe the case appear unable to trace this man, who is also said to be a core team member of an organised crime syndicate.

Could he be a fictitious character, made up by some mastermind for obfuscating, confusing, or misleading the entire case? This, too, is a question among the SIT officials.

Related: SC asks CBI if ‘common thread’ connects activists’ murders

All but one accused arrested

The SIT, headed by IPS officer MN Anucheth, arrested 17 people accused in the case.

This included the prime accused Amol Kale — touted as the mastermind who identified Gauri as a target and coordinated the murder along with the shooter Parashuram Waghmore — and others who were part of the organised syndicate.

However, Dada has been a missing link and a mystery, according to slain Gauri’s sister Kavitha Lankesh.

A senior SIT official told South First that they got leads in the form of a description of this absconder every time they arrested an accused, but those leads led them to only dead ends.

“The right-wing radical organisation (Sanatan Sanstha) used false identities, where each member was referred to by their alias. They would use many methods to obfuscate and hide their identities,” the SIT official noted.

“We were going by physical and other descriptions that the accused persons would give us, including the accent of the languages they spoke. Such were the impediments, and we still have some clues to get to Dada,” he added.

Different descriptions

However, a source privy to the court proceedings told South First that descriptions by the arrested accused during police investigation and cross-examinations in court varied to a great degree.

For example, while one accused claimed Dada usually wore a cap, another would describe him as wearing glasses, he said.

“While one would say he had a beard and moustache, another accused would say he had only a moustache or he was clean shaved,” the source added.

According to the prosecution, the role of Dada was equivalent to that of prime accused Amol Kale. Dada — also addressed as Big Brother — would identify, recruit, and train the killers to carry out their mission.

According to the description of the other accused, Dada is a man in his 40s, from Pune in Maharashtra, and is also involved in the murder of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.

He was also allegedly remotely involved in the hurling of a petrol bomb at a theatre in Uttar Pradesh that was screening the movie Padmaavat.

According to the Gauri Lankesh murder case charge sheet, it was Dada who had rented a house in Kumbalgodu, 14 km off Mysuru Road, where the house of Gauri Lankesh was located.

He has also been charged with providing logistics, conspiring, recruiting, and imparting training to killers.

Related: ‘Democrat who wished for a society our Constitution aspires to build’

The probable issues with the verdict

Legal experts explained that Dada’s remaining absconding would not matter to the case as the prosecution had framed appropriate charges and “split” them between all the 17 arrested accused and the absconding one.

They added that the case would proceed since the court’s verdict would not mean a closure as there would still be missing links — crucial for the closure of the entire chain of events surrounding the journalist’s assassination — that could adversely affect the conviction and as a result, the verdict.

The other fact that could adversely affect the verdict is the missing murder weapon — a 7.65 mm country-made pistol.

The firearm was allegedly dismantled and thrown into a creek by one of the accused, Sharad Kalaskar, who was tasked with discarding the firearm.

According to the charge sheet, the firearm was dismantled and discarded into Vasai Creek — an estuary of the Ulhas River in Maharashtra — from a bridge on a stretch of the Mumbai-Nashik highway.

The murder weapon

The murder weapon is very crucial evidence in the case. Ballistics reports of guns play an important role in swaying verdicts in cases involving their discharge.

It is also essential to establish that the bullets recovered from Gauri’s body were fired from the firearm carried by the accused.

The bullets would have skid marks, fire marks, and pin marks, but as the firearm has not been recovered, the ballistics report would be incomplete.

However, according to the charge sheet, the ballistic report by the Karnataka Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) has established that Gauri Lankesh was shot with the same firearm — a 7.65mm country-made pistol — that was used to kill scholar MM Kalburgi in Dharwad in 2015.

The prosecution is confident that the case would go to conviction even in the absence of the murder weapon, as the circumstantial evidence collected on par with exhibits and material objects was voluminous enough to confirm the heinous crime.

The prosecution is also confident that they could cite other cases where convictions were awarded in the absence of a murder weapon, or sometimes even corpus delicti the dead body or the corpse.

Related: After 5 years, family hopes for faster justice as Gauri trial delayed

Arrests by SIT

Between 2018 and 2020, the SIT arrested 17 of the 18 accused in the case.

These were:

  • Amol Kale, 38 (touted to be the mastermind, who identified Gauri as a target and coordinated the murder)
  • Parashuram Waghmore, 28 (who shot Gauri)
  • Amit Baddi, 28
  • Suresh Kumar, 37
  • Ganesh Miskin, 28
  • Rajesh Bangera, 51
  • Amit Degwekar, 39
  • Mohan Nayak, 51
  • KT Naveen Kumar, 38 (the first to be arrested in the case)
  • Sujeeth Kumar, 38
  • Manohar Edave, 30
  • Bharath Kurne, 38
  • Sharad Kalaskar, 26
  • Shrikanth Pangarkar, 41
  • Sudhanva Gondalekar, 40
  • Rishikesh Dewerkar, 45
  • Vasudev Suryavamshi, 30

As all 17 were also booked under the stringent Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act (KCOCA), they are all regularly denied bail.

The KCOCA, which received the approval of the President on 22 December, 2001, was enacted to make special provisions for the prevention and control of, and for coping with, criminal activity by organised crime syndicates or gangs.

In September last year, the Supreme Court overturned a Karnataka High Court order quashing charges under the KCOCA against one of the accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case — Mohan Nayak.

One witness declared hostile

During one hearing in the case in August this year, a prosecution witness from the coastal Karnataka town of Udupi, who had earlier recorded his statement saying that he went to Pune for arms training in June 2016, was treated as a hostile witness by the prosecution.

The witness earlier said he not only went to Pune as he was recruited by one of the accused, Sujeeth Kumar, but also received arms training there.

However, Special Public Prosecutor S Balan cross-examined him and declared him to be hostile as he was a member of the right-wing organisation Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS).

The SIT, in its charge sheet, named the right-wing radical organisation Sanatan Sanstha as a link between the accused.

During the investigation, the SIT was also able to crack the murder case of scholar MM Kalburgi and uncover a sinister plan to eliminate other vocal writers like KS Bhagawan.

Gauri’s sister Kavitha Lankesh told South First that though she has been bothered by the slow progress of the case, she and her family were satisfied with the SIT’s immaculate investigation, having understood that the court was overburdened.

She also said that they were happy since the Supreme Court recently asked for the establishment of the connection between the murders of Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, and Gauri.

‘Everything headed in the right direction’

“This is a good development since even the highest court in the country has taken cognizance of the linked murders. We are hoping that everything is headed in the right direction,” said Kavitha Lankesh.

To date, Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) S Balan has examined 83 witnesses, including the one who was declared hostile.

The prosecution has also examined 364 exhibits and 252 material evidence — everything was in-camera. Further hearing is scheduled for 8, 9, 10, and 11 September.

A source privy to the court proceedings said that all the arrested accused had no remorse at all.

“Their attitude before the court is as if they had eliminated a ‘durjan’ (an evil person) and were awaiting for their seven births with abundant riches,” a senior advocate told South First.

“They assume themselves to be avatars of Lord Vishnu. According to them, when they fired the gun, the target’s name was breathed into the bullet, and when it’s fired, even in the wrong direction, it would find the target like the Chakra of Vishnu,” the advocate explained.

“They are also confident that someday or the other they will walk out of the prison like they have done nothing wrong. They are also confident that their masters have a close nexus with the corridors of power and would come to liberate them from their temporary hardships,” the advocate added.