Heading: Karnataka & TN Govts to wait for SC verdict=20 or Karnataka & TN Govts at the mercy of SC now! Fakir Chand in Bangalore

The beleaguered governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on Friday decided to await the 'final' verdict of the Supreme Court before deciding on their next move to secure the release of Kannada film star Rajakumar from the clutches of forest brigand Veerappan as the hostage crisis entered the 40th day.

After the much-awaited meeting of both chief ministers at the Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore, S M Krishna and M Karunanidhi told a crowded press conference that they had together worked on the line of argument to be taken up by their lawyers when their responses come up in court on September 13.

"Karunanidhi and myself held a two-hour-long meeting along with other Cabinet ministers and officials concerned of both states to persist with our plea for vacating the indefinite stay granted by the three-judge bench of the apex court on the release of 51 detainees and suspected associates of Veerappan, who were released on bail by the Mysore sessions court on August 28 after TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act] charges against them were dropped," Krishna said.

Asked about the legal course being adopted in view of the strictures passed by the Supreme Court against the state government, Krishna said the case would be fought on the merits of dropping the TADA charges against the accused under section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows the executive to decide on this in the "larger interest" of the state.

Karunanidhi, who addressed the media only in Tamil, agreed with Krishna, but declined to give details, since the case was sub-judice. "The Tamil Nadu government will also be arguing the case on legal merits for dropping charges against five Tamil extremists, whose release has been sought by Veerappan to free Rajakumar," he said.

Apprehensive of any further censure by the Supreme Court, and fearing the judiciary's wrath for contempt, both chief ministers hinted that their advocates would not repeat the law-and-order argument.

"The cases will be fought on constitutional grounds, keeping in view the discretionary powers vested with the state governments under criminal jurisprudence," Krishna said.

Hardly had Krishna finished reading out a written statement on the outcome of their brain-storming session than an aggressive media fired a volley of questions ranging from their next legal move to what the governments would do if the Supreme Court rejected their petition or delayed its order further.

Dodging most of the questions and denying speculation on the alternatives being considered, Karunanidhi admitted that the aborted third mission to the jungle of emissary Gopal was a major setback, but insisted it was not a failure.

"Gopal has not come back empty-handed as was widely reported in the media. He has returned with categorical assurances from the outlaw that Rajakumar would not be harmed, and would be set free along with the three other hostages once his 121 supporters and the five extremists are released in the Satyamangalam forest range in Tamil Nadu," he claimed.

Asked how long both governments would wait for the crisis to end, Krishna said they would wait till Rajakumar comes back safely. "It is a sensitive case. The crisis is now at a delicate stage. We are anxiously waiting for the outcome in the Supreme Court to chalk out our next course of action, including sending Gopal again into Veerappan's den. Till then, there will not be any change in the month-old strategy of negotiating with the outlaw through only Gopal," the chief minister stated.

Karunanidhi claimed that his government was making an all-out effort to get the case in the apex court expedited. "We may be at loggerheads on sharing the Cauvery waters. But we are not going to allow the century-old dispute to spill over into the hostage crisis to derive any political mileage," he asserted.

"The people of Tamil Nadu as well as its government want to live in harmony with the people of Karnataka. We are for brotherhood and co-operation between the peoples of both states," he added.

Karunanidhi denied that the Tamil Nadu government had not co-operated with Karnataka in ending the crisis soon, and recalled the efforts of his state three years ago when 15 hostages of Karnataka were secured free from Veerappan through the good offices of the present emissary Gopal. "How can you say that we have not cooperated or have been soft on dealing with the bandit king. We have done last time, and doing even this time by agreeing to release the 5 Tamil extremists for the sake of securing the safe release of Rajakumar, whose life is as much precious to Tamils as to the people of Karnataka."/Eom/14:30.