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August 4, 2000
Family hopes Dr Rajakumar will be released by Tuesday
M D Riti in Bangalore
Will negotiations between bandit Veerappan and the state governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu really end in the release of Dr Rajakumar and his kinsmen by Tuesday? Or is Veerappan now going to start some hard bargaining, since this is certainly his last chance to cut a deal with the authorities?
Dr Rajakumar's family in Bangalore chooses to interpret the response of Chief Ministers S M Krishna and M Karunanidhi to Veerappan's demands very positively. "I am sure that he will be released by Tuesday, now that the governments have responded so positively to his demands," said a weary Parvathamma, the actor's wife.
The governments have responded favourably almost immediately to four of the demands, while the other six, they say, will have to face the due process of law since many of the cases are pending in court.
Will Veerappan be satisfied with these concessions? Is there really no hidden demand for a full pardon, state protection or anything of the kind?
Is the outlaw of Sathyamangalam not trying at all to use this bargaining power to give himself a cosy retirement or is he going to continue to stay on in the forests?
The other demand that Veerappan is rumoured to have made, that the two governments do not acknowledge publicly, is for Rs 50 million in ransom. "We are willing to give everything we have to get him back," says an obviously distraught Raghavendra Rajakumar, the actor's second son. "In fact, we were even resigned to moving to the forest ourselves to live with Appaji if Veerappan does not release him: we cannot live without Appaji anyway."
Several organisations have come forward to chip in towards the ransom. The Karnataka film industry has already asked the government to pay now, and recover the money by imposing a 100 per cent entertainment tax on all Kannada films (it is now 50 per cent or tax free). However, given the sorry financial state of the industry, insiders are sceptical about the government accepting this offer.
However, the Special Task Force, which has been trying to hunt Veerappan for over a decade now, is against any move to pardon him.
While those in actual service cannot vent their feelings openly, those who have retired speak up for them now. "It is definitely an insult to the hundreds of policemen and forest personnel who have sacrificed so much to this cause," says K U Shetty, former STF chief, even as he admits that the government may have no other choice.
He and his ex-colleagues do hold Dr Rajakumar himself partly responsible for the present situation, diplomatically describing him as "either too inncocent or too ignorant" for having ventured into Gajanur without proper protection.
Meanwhile, fearing a public backlash, the Karnataka government has declared a holiday for schools and colleges on Monday and Tuesday. Also the Tamil television channels are off again after being on for a few hours on Monday.
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