BENGALURU: The Karnataka government today decided to form a Special Investigation Team to probe the killing of senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, which has sparked nationwide outrage and protests.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced the SIT probe headed by a Inspector General level officer, saying his government had an "open mind" to an investigation by the CBI, a demand made by the slain journalist's family.
Briefing reporters after chairing a meeting of senior police officials with Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy here to take stock of the investigation, he said he had told the police that the case should be taken "very seriously."
"I have given direction to the police that this case should be taken very seriously and it should be investigated exclusively by a special team, so a Special Investigation Team headed by IG level officer will be constituted immediately," Siddaramaiah said.
Stating that Karnataka DGP and IGP have been asked to constitute an SIT, he said, "They will take up the investigation very seriously and this investigation will be purely for this incident."
No deadline has been fixed for the SIT, but they have been asked to take up the work immediately, he said.
In an audacious attack, 55-year old Gauri Lankesh, known as an anti-establishment voice with acrid anti-rightwing views, was shot dead at close range by unknown assailants at her home here yesterday.
Gauri, a writer, publisher and editor, had returned home in her car and was opening the gate when motorcycle-borne assailants sprayed bullets, with two hitting her in the chest and one on her forehead, police officials had said.
After working with The Times of India for its Bengaluru edition, 'Sunday' magazine and a Telugu television channel, Gauri took over the mantle from her father P Lankesh, a progressive writer, to run 'Lankesh Patrike'.
Family feud led her to start her own tabloid 'Gauri Lankesh Patrike' in 2005.
With Left leanings, Gauri was also actively involved in bringing Naxals into the mainstream and had often come in conflict with rightwing outfits.
As Gauri's killing sent shock waves, Siddaramaiah instructed the police to identify and give protection to free thinkers and those involved in the Left movement.
When pointed out to the chief minister that Gauri's brother Indrajit Lankesh has asked for a CBI probe into the incident, Siddaramaiah said the government was not opposed to a CBI probe.
"Let us see, we have constituted SIT now, let them investigate. If the family members are very particular, I am with an open mind," he said.
Gauri's murder comes close to the second anniversary of the killing of noted Kannada writer and rationalist M M Kalburgi (77), who fell to the bullets of two unidentified men at his residence at Dharwad in north Karnataka, considered the state's cultural capital, on August 30, 2015.
Asked whether there was any similarity between the killings of Gauri and Kalburgi, Siddaramaiah said, "Investigation is in the preliminary stage. It is true that it is an organised crime, let police look into it".
On the evidence available so far, he said there were four CCTV cameras installed at Gauri's house, and one of them had caught the image of a person wearing a helmet entering the gate and firing at her after which she collapsed two to three feet away.
"I have asked the police to go into the details and see that the assailants are arrested immediately," he said, while expressing confidence about nabbing the culprits as soon as possible.
Siddaramaiah said Gauri, who used to meet him often, never told him about any fear or threat.
"Last week also she had met me, but never told me anything. Her death is shocking news for me also, it is a great loss. She was close to me since her father's days," he said.
Gauri was the daughter of legendary Kannada journalist and founding editor of Kannada weekly tabloid 'Lankesh Patrike'.
Asked whether there was any intelligence failure, the chief minister said such things were difficult for the intelligence agencies as it was an "organised crime."
On reports about detentions made in Chikkamangalur, he said two persons, including one named Malli Arjuna have been detained for some comments on social media regarding the incident, and the investigation is on.
On the Kalburgi case, Siddaramaiah conceded that there has been a delay, but said investigation was on track.
He said the CID was probing the Kalburgi murder case and the investigation team was coordinating with the Maharashtra Police team, which was investigating similar killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in that state.
The CBI which is also involved in the case has arrested one person, he said.
"So investigation is progressing in Kalburgi case also very seriously. Yes there has been a delay...I cannot reveal all the details now...It has come to the notice that common weapon was used in these three murders," he said.
Protests erupted across the city today condemning the cold blooded murder of Gauri Lankesh.
Journalists took out a march from the Press Club to the Vidhana Soudha, the state secretariat, and submitted a memorandum to Siddaramaiah, seeking immediate action to bring the culprits to book.
"We strongly believe that such silencing methods are an attempt of divisive forces in a democratic system to stifle the media," the memorandum said.