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The R Gopal Chat

Nakkeran editor R Gopal answered swiftly and smartly, disposing of questions with elan. He proved himself the consummate diplomat and man of reason. Read on.

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:52 IST)
Good evening, everybody... this is Gopal, I am here and ready for your questions. Since there are already some questions here, I think I'll start answering them first... give me a minute, please...

Rajesh (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:39 IST)
Hello Mr Gopal, do you think Veerappan will surrender?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:54 IST)
RAJESH>> Well, the fact is that Veerappan is ready and prepared for surrender. The person who first said he will not spend even a day in jail, is now ready to spend two years - which in fact indicates that he is now prepared to come to terms with having to spend time in jail. So the question is the terms, not the fact of whether or not he will actually surrender.

Meenakshi (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:44 IST)
Hell Mr Gopal, sir how were you able to manage to meet Veerappn in the first place?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:58 IST)
Meenakshi>> Veerappan has a lot of informers. So it was a matter of first going to the borders of Veerappan-territory, which is a forest of about 6000 kms. We go to that point, and let it be known that we would like to meet him. His informers then spread the word, which passes through varioius checkposts till Veerappan gets it. Funny thing is, the first time I had a problem because of my moustache - the police in the area thought I was a Veerappan follower and were ready to shoot me at sight, while Veerappan's men thought I was a policeman in mufti and were also prepared to kill me. The first time I went, I had to cover my face with a towel in order to hide the moustache. Once the contact was established, we had a walk of about 20 kms... till I reached a high point, with a drop of dizzying proportions. Suddenly a person materialised with levelled rifle... and the person who was accompanying me had to yell, saying I was R Gopal and the Nakkeeran editor and not to shoot. Anyway, he then lowered his gun and led me to his chief.

Gundaraj (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:47 IST)
Mr Gopal: Do you think that Veerappan really deserves a fair chance? I mean he has killed more than 100 people in cold blood, for the reason alone, HOW CAN WE LET HIM BARGAIN THE TERMS???

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:3 IST)
Gundaraj>> First, we are not "giving a chance', in that sense. The fact is that in the last six years, the police of TN and Karnataka, also the BSF, have not been able to capture him. Besides, Rs 1.5 billion or more has been spent on - this is our tax money, remember - on the search for Veerappan. Besides, good police officials, forest officials and innocent persons have been killed in the process. Most importantly, the people in the area are living in a state of seige - the police harass them asking for information about Veerappan, and Veerappan's people also look on them as potential informers and harass them. All these things have been going on for some time - thus, since it seems impossible for the governments to capture him, it becomes essential now to put an end to the situation. And since Veerappan himself prepares to surrender, it might be good to accept the offer and end an intolerable situation. This is the 50th year of Independence - maybe, by this surrender, the people in the area will attain independence from fear. Also, remember that the negotiations began in a bid to release the nine hostages, who would otherwise have lost their lives - so there is a humanitarian aspect right there.

Jaya (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:53 IST)
Hi Mr Gopal:-). Sir What kind of man is Veerappan?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:4 IST)
Jaya>> He is a killer, there is no doubt about it, he is also a dacoit. Now, however, he is also seen as a human being, a person who wants to give up his "profession" if you can call it that, and return to the human fold. Call him a one-time killer now getting in touch with his own humanity, if you like.

Jaya (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:56 IST)
That is what is my question Mr Gopal, WHY SHOULD A MAN , who has KILLED 120 people and more be able to negotiate terms and go to jail for ONLY TWO YEARS?? What is so special about him?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:8 IST)
Jaya>> Like I said earlier, he was not prepared to spend even a day in jail. Now he has come down to agreeing to two years. The thing to remember is, earlier, his brother Arjunan had earlier come down to mediate a surrender. He died. The police say he committed suicide. Veerappan thinks the police killed him. Which is why he is reluctant to surrender without some kind of guarantee of his life - and he does have a point when he says that it is hard to believe that a person who voluntarily surrendered to the police would have committed suicide. Veerappan in fact said in his first interview to me that his biggest fear is being put in jail, because he fears that his life will be endangered. Also remember, the government has NOT agreed to the two year term, so all this becomes academic.

JHPatel (Fri Sep 5 1997 19:56 IST)
Though Veeru is a smuggler, killer etc. he has a softer side. he has helped the villagers who trusted him. For them, he is more trust worthy than the MLA they elected. Shouldn't this be considered as social service and lessen his punishment if he surrenders?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:10 IST)
JHPatel>> The fact that he HAS done some good for the people in the region is precisely what makes one believe that he is willing to give up his past ways and turn over a new leaf.

Karl (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:2 IST)
Hi Mr Gopal, sir what is it about your and Veerappan's moustache? What does it symbolise?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:13 IST)
Karl>> I come from Aruppukottai, near Virudunagar district in interior Tamil Nadu. In those regions, you will find that almost every single person who can grow a moustache will have a large, flourishing one. Other than that, there is no symbolism - my moustache is 15 years old, but I know Veerappan only for two years. Interestingly, Veerappan's moustached look is only from 1993 - earlier, he had a thick, but not curved, moustache.

Karl (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:5 IST)
But Mr Gopal, Rs 1.5 billion would have bought us an small army, or a whole team of the best hitmen in the world, Is the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu government so corrupt or inefficient or downright lazy and scared that they wasted SO MUCH of the tax payers money for so many years without any results?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:17 IST)
Karl>> Actually, the BSF has attempted to do just that. And I don't think it is a question of corruption. Truth to tell, the two governments of TN and Karnataka were at first in competition, each telling the other that they would bring Veerappan to book. It became a game of oneupmanship between the two governments - and in the process, both governments underestimated Veerappan very badly. For instance, in one case, three people were kidnapped. Later, they came back, one of them being a DSP - Chidambaranathan, his name was. Immediately, both the TN and Karnataka police began claiming credit for the "rescue". Then when we finally tried to find out the truth, the DSP himself told us that there was no rescue - they had escaped by their own presence of mind.

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:19 IST)
Karl>> To continue my point, the then TN chief minister Jayalalitha said, in April 1993, in the TN Assembly that Veerappan had gone away to Bombay and was no longer in the forest. Within a week, he had killed 22 people in a bomb blast. In fact, this is te point when we at Nakkeeran began taking an interest in the case - we wanted to find out if the CM was lying, or the deaths were not caused by Veerappan. Thus we began our investigations which led to our first interview with him.,

Mak (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:8 IST)
Hello Mr.Gopal! Given that, Veerappan could survive in the forest for some years to come, what was the reason for his change in mind! Do you believe, he has changed to that extend that we can accept him as an harmless social element?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:22 IST)
Mak>> His inspiration to surrender, he told me, was Phoolan Devi. When she came back to the mainstream, he began to think, why couldn't he do the same. Also - though I don't like blowing my own trumpet - when I first met him in 1996, I had asked him why he couldn't consider giving up this life of bloodshed and return to everyday life. It was from that point that he began considering surrender - in fact, during that meeting, he even proposed for the first time conditions under which he would be prepared to surrender.

Dheeraj (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:8 IST)
Mr Gopal what is the relationship that you and Veerappan share? Tell us about some of your moments with him, does he have a sense of humour and does he regret killing?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:28 IST)
Dheeraj>> the relationship is simple - he is a hardcore criminal, a killer, a dacoit. I am a journalist. Having said that, after going in there for the first time, after seeing at first hand the precautions he takes to hide his presence, to evade pursuit, I came back and declared that it would be near impossible to trap him. I must make clear that we are not justifying Veerappan - merely stating a fact. For example, the first meeting between us was going on. Suddenly he said, off the camera - I must mention that the videocamera was running. Suddenly, he said, "Put the camera off!". He then called some of his followers and sent them out to search. After a while they came back and said, it was a stag. At that, Veerappan told me I could turn the camera on again. I asked him how he knew there was something in the forest. He said, I saw a bird flying. Then he went on to describe five different ways of flight for birds - from the way it flies in search of food, or to return to its nest, to the way it flies when it is frightened. And this particular bird, he said, flew in fright, so I sent someone to check, he told me. I could go on giving such examples - in sum, from experience, he is a master of junglecraft. Again, do remember, this is not said in praise of the man - merely a reporting of the fact. As for sense of humour, yes, he does, in his own way... if you look at the videos of our interviews, you will see him laughing, telling funny stories of life in the jungle...

Jason (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:15 IST)
Mr Gopal: Do you see another Veerappan emerging in the near future? What was the reason he became so powerful?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:35 IST)
Jason>> This Veerappan is only one instance - the fact is that many "veerappans" already exist right in the heart of the city. Look at some of the politicians, police officials, people in authority who misuse it. Look at it this way - on video, Veerappan openly admitted to the 120 murders he committed. Meanwhile, former CM Jayalalitha and her top police official Walter Devaram recently told the media that "We killed 145 gang members of Veerappan" - when the fact is that most of those who died were innocent villagers. So who is to judge, between Veerappan and the other side, which is the more brutal? As far as this Veerappan is concerned, his uniqueness only comes from the fact that he has managed to evade capture all these years - I don't think another "Veerappan", in that sense, will emerge. As to how he became powerful, most of it is because of the police. They say they are hunting for him - but all they do is end up going to the villages and making a noise, harassing the locals. They never ventured into the forest. In the process, the villagers began supporting Veerappan, to get relief from police harassment. Another point is that Veerappan did what he did only because he was supported, covertly, by politicians, forest officials and people like that - and that is also why the politicians keep saying he should not surrender, he should be shot... because they don't want him to open his mouth and reveal just who helped him become what he is.

Maria (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:27 IST)
Mr Gopal: You have said that he was inspired by Phoolan Devi but were his reasons for becoming such a dacoit the same as her?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:41 IST)
Maria>> Phoolan Devi became a dacoit to avenge her rape. In Veerappan's case, he started out as a sandalwood smuggler and ivory poacher. Forest officials who couldn't catch him harassed his family - his sister was raped, his brother in law was shot in cold blood, his brother was jailed and tortured, his own wife was tortured with electric shocks and such... Then Veerappan in turn sought revenge. The police stepped in and began their harassment, Veerappan escalated his own killings by way of revenge.. What we are talking of here is a chain reaction... that culminated in creating the Veerappan we know today.

veerappan (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:32 IST)
Hai, wont it have been simple to catch him, if the police had given u a electronic bug and traced it? why are we not thinking on these lines?

R Gopal (Fri Sep 5 1997 20:45 IST)
veerappan>> First, I was being sent as intermediary - and the most important thing to remember is that the purpose was not to get Veerappan's surrender or even capture, but to save the lives of the hostages. At that point I made one condition - that no one should follow me, or try electronic surveillance. My reason was that if something like that had been attempted and Veerappan had been alerted to it, then it would have endangered not just me, but the hostages as well. May I make another point? If it was a question of electronic surveillance, then the police should have done it on their own, if they were capable - they didn't need me for it. And for me to let myself be used in such a fashion goes against the ethics of being an intermediary.

The R Gopal Chat, continued