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August 5, 2000
Unconfirmed reports talk of second cassette from Veerappan
Our correspondent in Pondicherry
With the Rajkumar tape out, rumours have started spreading. A cable TV channel in Salem, on the periphery of Veerappan country, mentioned a new audio cassette from the forest brigand in its Saturday night bulletin. Veerappan had laid down 10 conditions in it, the newscast said, and even listed out some of them.
Then started a frenzy of activity across Tamil Nadu, and it did not escape the Union territory, either. Late night reports even spoke of TN Chief Minister M Karunanidhi having listened to the cassette, just as he had been played the first tape, the previous night. But enquiries at Madras and elsewhere spoke only of rumours, but no confirmation.
News-hounds visiting the Tamil Nadu chief minister's residence at dead of night, found a quiet and sleepy house as any other, but for the presence of the mandatory security patrol and the crackling of their wireless transmitter. Inquiries with the Nakkeeran office sources in Madras however spoke of a new cassette having been received, but would not say whether it had been heard, or passed on to the state government, for whom alone it was meant. And senior editors in charge of handling their end of the operation were unavailable for comment: either to confirm or deny the rumours.
Simultaneously, questions have come to be asked about the source for the 'Rajkumar tape' telecast by the Sun TV group. While the editors of the Thamizhan Express, a sister-publication of the New Indian Express, later claimed that they had received the tape first through their Pondicherry reporter, there are gaps that need to be filled. Indications are that Dharmaraj, their Pondicherry reporter, may himself have been the source for the Sun TV group, given particularly the long time gap between the claim he had made to his editors on phone, and the time he took coming to Madras, which is only a three-hour drive from Pondicherry, to hand over the cassette: it had taken him over 18 hours between the time the cassette is believed have reached him, and the time he reached his Madras office.
What has not gone unnoticed in the process is the possibility of the Tamil Nadu police brass distancing themselves from the entire episode. Information hints at the possibility of the Tamil Nadu police brass not being taken into confidence before Chief Minister M Karunanidhi heard the 'Rajkumar tape' in the middle of the night, in his house. In this context, sources refer to Tamil Nadu DGP F C Sharma's deftly-worded statement of yesterday wherein he had distanced the police from the entire episode. The state police has also dispel the 'misgivings' that they were the source for the Sun TV whose owners are close relatives of Karunanidhi.
Questions are also being asked about Veerappan's tactic of opening a new line of communication, while the one through Nakkeeran Gopal already existed. If anything, the 'Gopal hotline' is better known to him, and has been authorised by the two state governments concerned. Reports have that the Veerappan contact, a member of the militant Tamil National Liberation Army, who got the tape, had passed it on to the Pondicherry reporter of Thamizhan Express, considered a poor competition for Nakkeeran.
The claims are that Veerappan wanted the cassette details publicised in through the respected Tamil daily, Dinamani and the Bangalore-based Kannada Prabha, both stable-mates of Thamizhan Express. According to information, the cassette had travelled across the TNLA's backyard in the northern districts, from Jayamkondan, to reach Pondicherry. However, the Thamizhan Express editors claim that an unidentified man had accosted their Pondicherry reporter, and handed over the cassette after confirming his identity.
Official sources in Madras claim that Nakkeeran Gopal has established contacts with Veerappan's sources from the thick woods. "He is not known to have met, or spoken to Veerappan, directly. In which case, he may either be proceeding to meet Veerappan, or may have been handed over another cassette. The details will be known only during the course of the day. A lot however will depend on whom in Madras Gopal contacts first, whether it will be his police handlers, or his senior colleagues in Nakkeeran which cannot miss out on the scoop."
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