At 3:27 pm on 5 September, a lone biker with a black helmet slowly approaches from the right of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh’s bungalow at Ideal Homes Layout in Bengaluru’s Rajarajeshwari Nagar neighbourhood off Mysore Road. He is dressed in a white shirt (not in a dark jacket as erroneously reported earlier) and dark, baggy terri-cotton trousers.
The biker turns his gaze towards Gauri’s house to his left, goes forward a metre or so, and turns the bike around slowly before going back the same route he followed.
He returns at 7:15 pm and follows through the same motion, this time with the headlight of the bike turned on. But instead of turning back, he drives on.
He would return a third time, with a black sling bag on his right shoulder. That bag, sleuths of the Special Investigating Team (SIT) formed to probe the sensational Gauri Lankesh murder believe, carried the country-made pistol that the shooter pulled out to fire four 7.65 mm rounds at the 55-year-old activist before disappearing into the night.
The Quint, which exclusively accessed two clips of the CCTV footage which captured the lone biker, has learnt from authoritative police sources that “two men” were involved in the gunning down of Gauri.
An officer familiar with the investigation so far has revealed:
The man who did the reconnoitering at 3:27 pm and 7:15 pm is suspected to be the actual shooter. He had an accomplice who drove him away after the 10 to 12-second operation ended around 8:10 pm on 5 September.
That evening, Gauri left the office of Gauri Lankesh Patrike (near Gandhi Bazar in Basavangudi) at 7:15 pm along with an office boy, Lakshmana. She dropped him midway before heading for her bungalow.
She entered the lane from the direction of a triangular park. She turned her white Toyota Etios in front of the metal gates, leaving the right-hand-side door of the vehicle open. The street light bang opposite her house was bright enough.
As she took two steps before bending down to unlatch the smaller wing of the metal gates, the man in the white shirt and black helmet emerged from behind her. He let off one round which struck Gauri in the back. As she screamed, stumbled and made an attempt to run towards the portico of her house, the shooter fired a second round but missed his target. The bullet struck the edge of a wall and ricocheted off, with the splinters hitting another wall.
The shooter took a step into the driveway and fired two more rounds which struck Gauri, spinning her frail body onto a small flight of stairs. Police sources, citing the post-mortem report, said that two of the bullets entered Gauri’s lungs while a third penetrated her heart. Death was almost instantaneous.
According to a reconstruction of the crime by police, the shooter’s accomplice had started up the bike’s engine as the shots were being fired at Gauri. Once the assailant accomplished his task, he jogged over to the bike and took the rear seat before it sped away.
The duo took the same lane but instead of following the road that the lone biker had taken in the afternoon and at 7:15 pm, they sped down, took a left turn from the T-point and in no time, were in the midst of people milling around in the neighbourhood’s busy marketplace.
The SIT, which is making “excruciatingly slow progress” in tracking down the killers – 700 CCTV units from Gauri’s workplace to her home are being closely studied and analysed to find matches with the men captured in her residential CCTV cameras – and is nowhere close to making any headway in finding out who may have wanted the activist dead, is suspecting that the country-made pistol used to gun down Gauri could be part of a cache of 26 similar weapons that “entered Bengaluru sometime in February this year”.
This cache, a subsequent probe found, originated somewhere near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh where dealers sold each piece for Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 to buyers in Karnataka’s Bijapur district from where other “interested parties” purchased each country-made pistol for Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000.
The Karnataka police were able to obtain intelligence related to the pistols but could not break up the gang or take other measures to arrest the flow of the weapons into Bengaluru.
One source said that some of the pistols were suspected to have been procured by Bengalureans.
The quick getaway of Gauri’s killers, now believed to be two men, however, did not go fully unnoticed. At least four witnesses – construction labourers at a plot diagonally opposite Gauri’s bungalow (number 473/A) – may have seen the killers drive away. They have been examined by the police and their statements recorded.
The SIT, according to unimpeachable sources, have established that the killers “are not crack, professional shooters”. They see a vital difference between the professional killer(s) who shot Dharwad-based History professor MM Kalburgi (who was killed in 2013 and whose case remains unsolved) and those who gunned down Gauri.
While a lone gunman shot Kalburgi in his forehead from very close range, the man who shot Gauri did not do so.
“A professional killer would have ensured the use of fewer bullets. But in the case of Gauri’s killer, he ended up using four bullets, one of which missed the target,” an investigator said, adding that the shooter and his accomplice could “very well belong to places on the outskirts of Bengaluru”.
While a man-hunt is in progress to track down the killers, the SIT is finding it a challenge to follow a definite course that could take them to the “main brain” behind the assassination and the motive for the murder.
While the SIT is focusing on the involvement of Naxals and members of the far-right wing in Goa, Maharashtra and north Karnataka, it is now gradually veering around to focus on “personal and/or financial reasons” behind the elimination of Gauri.