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August 21, 2000
Detainees want scribes in swap party
N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
The five Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act-National Security Act detainees in Tamil Nadu prisons, whose freedom has been sought by brigand Veerappan for releasing kidnapped Kannada film icon Dr Rajakumar, want a team of public personalities to be witness as a possible swap party, fearing elimination in an 'encounter'.
Alternatively, they would have Rajakumar and the other three hostages released by Veerappan, without involving them in any swap deal now being sought.
"They seem to have been counselled that police forces of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu would swoop down on them the minute Rajakumar is released," said a source.
"Apart from Veerappan and some aides, they will be the only ones who could be identified. Simultaneously, they will be the most expendable in a crisis, and going by reputation, he would be suspicious of them for long. That would put them in double jeopardy."
According to the source, the Tamil Nadu government seems to have reached to journalist emissary R R Gopal, an audio-cassette and letters by the five detainees, urging Veerappan and their own Tamil Nadu Liberation Army militant leadership, to free Rajakumar, and not to link their freedom to the abduction. "They would rather face court cases when they come up," a lawyer source close to them is reported to have said.
With the detainees refusing to leave prison and also declining to apply for bail, the Tamil Nadu government could at best withdraw cases against them, to comply with Veerappan's demand, made obviously on behalf of his TNLA aides.
"But that is a legal complication which cannot be sorted out overnight," said the source. "It will take a fortnight or more, even if the prosecution is directed to withdraw the petitions and the court is convinced of the reasons.
"But that can demoralise the police, particularly speciality squads like the 'Q branch', which is handling militancy in the state." As the source pointed out, the detainees include those charged with raiding the Vellithiruppur police station and "to free them now would be like thumbing their nose at the police. And to expect the cops then to go down hunting Veerappan with renewed vengeance once Rajakumar is released would be expecting too much."
For their part, journalists have been leaving visiting cards with lawyers handling the detainees, hoping that they will be invited to be part of the 'swap party'. According to this suggestion, the detainees should be convinced to accept freedom and join their colleagues in Veerappan territory, on the promise that a team of journalists and public persons would be present, to ensure that no harm was done to them by the police, before enlarged into the 18,000 square kilometres of forests, where Veerappan is the law.
However, analysts said that refusal of the detainees to be enlarged on freedom could further complicate Rajakumar's release. "That would leave the TNLA with no other benefit, other than bad publicity, for egging on Veerappan into it all," said the source.
"Maybe Veerappan would have obtained the freedom of 51 TADA detainees in the Mysore prison, even where obtaining bail for them in the criminal cases could prove problematic. It could make the TNLA a sitting duck that had provoked the hunter."
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