September 11, 2000


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How many criminals will we release?

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Aravind Sitaraman

With the kidnapping of Kannada film icon Dr Rajakumar, all semblance of common sense, decency and rule of law seem to have disappeared from the list of obligations due from the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Here are two large states, vying with each other, to placate a common criminal responsible for the murder of over 120 human beings, an illicit ivory trade from killing 1200 elephants and the smuggling of thousands of regulated sandalwood trees.

One government offered him money. And the other offered freedom to his fellow jailed criminals, in various stages of impeachment. One nominated Nakkeeran editor R R Gopal as an emissary. The other agreed.

The Centre went a step further and agreed with the states to drop cases against these murderers and criminals. It took the aged father of a murdered Special Task Force (STF) member to halt, albeit briefly, the latest exercise embarked upon by the governments seeking an easy and politically irresponsible way out.

Admittedly, this is not unique to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The Government of India has often dealt with terrorists, to free hardened militants and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir in return for a relative of a politician or a minister. It released several terrorists in return for a relative of a home minister, a Congress functionary and a local politician. It allowed the occupiers of the Hazratbal shrine to walk away after its occupation, with a symbolic surrender of weapons.

In response to pleas from relatives of hijacked victims, it released Mohammed Azhar, an alleged maulana, who headed an international terrorist organisation during the Khandahar episode.

Since the 1990 deal for the home minister's daughter, over 25,000 people (mostly civilians) have died in Kashmir alone. Various terrorist outfits have systematically destroyed the judiciary, administration and polity of Kashmir. Hence, every time we release terrorists for civilians, we inadvertently sacrifice unseen hundreds and spend unseen millions more.

Also in the list of dead are security personnel. These brave people live in abject conditions, work for a pittance in dangerous areas and die gracefully, so that India can live happily and safely.

In a shameful act of trying to clean up their conscience, the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are setting up a fund for STF personnel who died in action.

When will this madness stop? How long is it going to be before we learn that this well-used policy of capitulation for political expediency will only make matters worse? How many more lives are we to sacrifice to save the life of some actor, obscure politician or a politician's relative?

Expediency is not limited to politicians. While we are quick to blame politicians, we should not ignore the irresponsibility of the media and bureaucracy. Why has the media not stood up to oppose the deal? Why does it blindly report what Gopal says or what the state governments declare? Some vernacular television channels have started identifying Veerapan as Sandalwood Veerapan. However, Veerapan is more a Murderer Veerapan or Criminal Veerapan than a dignified Sandalwood Veerapan.

As in many similar incidents, the media has not followed up stories of national significance. For instance, what happened to investigations following the Khandahar hijacking? Did someone follow up on the findings? Why are we not asking questions to keep crucial issues alive?

Indian intelligence agencies have performed miracles. They dug out taped conversations between two Pakistani generals (in Pakistan and China) during the Kargil war, convincing the world of Pakistani intransigence. They produced photographs and profiles of those involved in the Khandahar hostage drama.

Why can't they produce evidence against Veerapan? If Veerapan has amassed millions, as is being alleged, he is not carrying that money around with him?! Where is he hiding it? Why not use satellites to monitor his movements? We used them to monitor the movement of tigers in the forest so that United States President Bill Clinton could see them.

The answer is simple. In all the cases, an identifiable external enemy concocted devious plans that we rallied to destroy. However, in the case of Veerapan, he has so long been a remote problem that did not affect our daily lives. So what if some STF men are killed? We have become insensitive to security personnel dying every day. Some poor family bemoans the death of a brave son or daughter. Some officer in a plush bungalow somewhere sends a condolence note. The organisation he or she belongs to grants some obscure award to the grieving spouse or parent. Some insurance policy is given. With that, our political conscience is clear.

However, the Rajkumar kidnapping has changed all that. It has brought Veerapan into our lives. Rajakumar's fans created havoc in Bangalore, shutting down the so-called hi-tech capital of India. The Bangalore police and Karnataka government, notorious for their chauvinistic attitude to non-Kannadigas, let rioters vent their anger against Tamil businessmen. Just as Bombay lost all claims to cosmopolitanism after the Babri Masjid riots, Bangalore lost all pretensions of being a cosmopolitan Mecca for technocrats from around the world. While 5000 fans brought life to a halt, millions fumed at the government's inaction. Millions of daily wage earners went hungry because they could not work. Millions were lost in revenue and productivity. How will these same goons and their political and bureaucratic patrons react when and if Veerapan releases Rajakumar? Will they unleash another pogrom on innocent Tamils in Bangalore to show their happiness?

Casual conversation with any educated person will reveal lack of sympathy for the two state governments. Finding an easy way out to secure Rajakumar's release may be politically expeditious for the two chief ministers and a good selling point for the print media.

However, they create a larger problem for India. This capitulation is more dangerous than all the capitulation of India in Jammu and Kashmir. This brings terrorism to our backyards. Will Maharashtra release Dawood Ibrahim's criminals if Amitabh Bachchan or Dilip Kumar are kidnapped? Will Tamil Nadu release Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorists if Rajnikant or Sivaji Ganesan are kidnapped? How many more criminals are we going to release?

Aravind Sitaraman, who works in the hi-tech industry, can be contacted at

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