November 6, 2000


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Rajakumar completes 100 days in captivity

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

On any other occasion, his family and fans would have been gloating over his achievements. Not this time. With Kannada cinema's superstar Dr Rajakumar completing 100 days in captivity on Monday, it has instead exposed the system to the inabilities and inconsistencies that could not be fought and won - even when the captor is sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, with a pan-Tamil ideology to flaunt as his latest acquisition.

The Rajakumar kidnap episode has since degenerated into a mega-serial, where no one, least of all the script-writer, seems to know what next is in store. The script-writer, if it is Veerappan or even his pan-Tamil allies, has let things pause and so has the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the two major characters in the serial.

With everyone letting things take their own turn, no one now seems to have any control over the next turn. As it seems to happen in such mega-serials, inadvertent and un-thought of characters seem to have made a late entry, still seem to be walking out with crucial lines and controlling proceedings, tying down major characters from the past, into the sidelines.

The reference, of course, is to the Supreme Court, which took off from where the two state governments left - or, rather grabbed the issue from out of their hands.

Now, everyone, the state governments, emissary and Nakkeeran editor R R Gopal, and even Veerappan seem tied down to the next line that the SC would mouth. The court verdict on Veerappan's associates is expected with eagerness and anxiety among all associated with this the abduction. That includes the Tamil population in Karnataka, who have been left to spent tension-filled nights through the kidnap drama, not knowing what to make of the knock at their doors after nightfall or of the noise and turmoil in the neighbourhood.

All this, not to undermine the efforts of the state governments and also contributions of Gopal and Tamil Nationalist Movement leader Pazha Nedumaran in securing freedom. The governments have conducted themselves with caution and concern, taking the people with them. While Gopal may not have been able to obtain Dr Rajakumar's freedom, he has definitely convinced Veerappan into yielding on all but one of his original 13 demands and also to hold on to Dr Rajakumar's life. Even the late entrant in Nedumaran seems to have contributed his might in obtaining freedom for one of the kidnap victims.

Today, Dr Rajakumar has become a celebrity kidnap victim to have spent the longest term in captivity. The United States visit of Prime Minister Vajpayee, his knee surgery, the Sri Lankan elections with which his captors' fate may have been linked thanks to the pan-Tamil ideology, and now the US presidential elections would all have passed by the thespian, had it not been for Veerappan's obsession with listening to All India Radio's news. Which is also what the family and the governments have been relying on, apart from Gopal, to communicate with Dr Rajakumar, and for appealing to Veerappan.

The abduction has raised questions for which the system doesn't seem to have answers. For the first time an abduction has made so much news in the south, with far-reaching political and socio-economic fall-outs. People in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka may have been emotionally involved with the Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping of 1989 and the Kandahar hijack drama of last year, but it is for the first time that they are directly affected.

Inter-state buses have stopped plying, prices of essentials have shot up in one state while the commodity rots elsewhere, labour from Tamil Nadu and builders from Bangalore are affected, Tamil software personnel in Silicon Valley of Bangalore are keeping their fingers crossed, fun and frivolity has given room to caution and concern on the city streets...

On the wider, administrative side, the abduction has exposed the 'inability' and 'incapacity' of the state's might to cow down an individual and forces he represents - in turn, representing him - from yielding to pressure or persuasion. In the dock are not just the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, or even the Centre, which had its taste of it earlier, but the very institution of the State, and the forces and institutions it represents.

Implied among these institutions is the SC, as well. While the court's might could bring the executive to its knees and even tie the legislature in knots - despite frequent differences over powers, notwithstanding - it has not been able to deliver Rajakumar as yet. Nor may it be able to, should the SC verdict in the Veerappan associates case deny the two state governments their inherent right under Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code to withdraw criminal cases.

Conversely, even if the SC directs the two state governments and the Centre to come down heavily on the brigand and his pan-Tamil associates, there is no way the order could be enforced, without risking Dr Rajakumar's life. Downing Veerappan and even his pan-Tamil associates may be one thing but ensuring freedom for Rajkumar is another. The dividing line may be thin but it exists, clear and strong.

The Rajkumar abduction has thrown up questions of pan-Tamil militancy for the first time since the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The authorities came down heavily on pan-Tamil militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam variety and even others, after the assassination.

But the public identification of such groups with Veerappan and highlighting some of their traditional demands, may have revived hopes - and consequent fears - of a call for a separate Tamil homeland. With pressure building on the LTTE in Sri Lanka, an impregnable Veerappan country may be what the pan-Tamil militants may be looking for, for a home away from home.

To that extent, the Rajakumar kidnap episode may have more questions than answers, which may reflect in the Tamil Nadu assembly polls next year: whether it is pan-Tamil ideology, which the opposition AIADMK says gets encouragement under the DMK regime of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, or, the alleged failure of law and order under the DMK dispensation, or the impotence of the state's might before a street gangster given to sandalwood smuggling and ivory poaching until the other day...

Only that like the mega serial, every observer is talking about what shape the script may take over the weeks, but not what may be on the screen the very evening.

The Rajakumar Abduction: complete coverage
The saga of Veerappan

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