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September 18, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ R R Gopal

'Veerappan has become a terrorist'

The Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments are keeping their fingers crossed, waiting for the Supreme Court hearing scheduled for tomorrow. Only then will we know whether R R Gopal, editor of Nakeeran will visit the forest once again, for the fourth time, to negotiate on the governments' behalf with Veerappan to secure the release of Dr Rajakumar.

Gopal claimed that he would have returned with the Kannada superstar but for the Supreme Court's ruling preventing the Karnataka government from releasing the 120 TADA detenus as demanded by the bandit.

In an interview with Shobha Warrier, Gopal talks about his encounters with Veerappan, his journey into the jungles and the negotiations with the forest brigand.

Till the Supreme Court gave its verdict, were you hopeful of success in your last mission to the jungle as an emissary?

Even now I am sure that we will succeed. I strongly believe that we will be successful this time too. We will be able to rescue Rajakumar from Veerappan's clutches.

You sound quite confident.

The negotiations were very successful and had reached the last stage. My last visit was my third to the jungle with messages from both, the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments. I went into the jungle on the evening of August 30 and I met Veerappan the next morning. We went with the hope of bringing Rajakumar back, and then came the Supreme Court's verdict.

Here, everybody thinks that Veerappan stays in a bungalow and I am taken to the jungle in a car and from there I go directly to his house! Do you know that we have to walk 15-20 km to meet Veerappan? Sometimes we have even walked 25-30 km. He is not the same Veerappan who we saw in 1997.

You said he had become a Tamil extremist now.

Yes, he has become a terrorist and also a part of the Tamil extremist group. In 1997, his mood was of surrender and amnesty. Not anymore. In 1997, while negotiating on behalf of the government for the nine people he had kidnapped, I had promised him that he would get a positive reply from the governments soon. I requested him to free the hostages before the reply and he agreed. But once the hostages were freed, the Karnataka government changed its stand. They even announced that they would kill Veerappan!

Now, is he is not interested in amnesty at all?

No, he told me that he didn't care for amnesty. Now that he has the help of extremists, he doesn't want to talk about amnesty.

The extremists have gone inside the jungle and met him. Everybody goes there except the police!

Anyone can go into the jungles. I too do not understand why the police cannot reach him. You have to take the risk of going inside such a thick jungle. I took an insurance for Rs 95 lakh for the four of us when we went in. Just tell me, will anyone do all this just to meet a person?

A Special Task Force was created only to nab Veerappan. Why couldn't they go anywhere near him? Do you see any political connection in this issue?

It is not that. Yes, the extremists have developed contacts with Veerappan. So they might have deceived the police and gone inside. Do you know that Veerappan's people roam around the city these days? His contacts call me from Chennai itself asking whether I am ready to go the next day. His network has increased a lot. And his network in the city consists of not his own men but of extremists too.

You have been meeting Veerappan without any problem now. Why is it that you don't help the police nab him?

Will you do that? It is not my duty to help the police nab him.

As a citizen of this country, is it not your duty to help the police in this struggle?

Is not my duty as a journalist more important? A journalist has to follow certain ethics. Whatever information the government has on Veerappan has been provided by us. We have given the government Veerappan's confessions. He had confessed to having killed 132 people. What more do you expect from a journalist? All the photographs the government has have been taken by us. They also have a duty and let them do their job. Why should I do their work for them? If Veerappan comes to know that I am going to ditch him, he will finish me off. It is not possible for me to help the police, neither is it my duty to do so. My duty now is that of an emissary, that's all.

You have specifically said that the police should not follow you when you go inside the jungle.

How can you trust the police? In 1994-95, when Dawaram was chief of the STF, he had given an order that if anybody from Nakeeran entered the forest, he should be shot immediately. We had to take the issue to the Press Council to stop them from shooting us. How can we trust such a police force?

I will not reveal my source at any cost, and it is not my duty to do so. When nobody was sure whether or not Rajakumar was alive, I went into the jungle and bore several insults, to bring some news about him. You do not know how much I was insulted by Veerappan's gang.

How did they insult you?

They did not let me see Rajakumar initially. They made me sit inside a small hut for three whole days with some extremists for company, and it was raining outside. Tell me, is it necessary for me to go through all this? The gang made us get up at four in the morning so that by the time people from the village started coming, we could finish our daily chores and get inside the hut. What did we get to eat? Only once during the day were we given upma . And it was brought to us by some adivasis, who were actually informers. Why I am saying all this is because you should know what we had to go through before we met Veerappan. But everybody thinks I just go inside, meet Veerappan and come back. It is not as easy as they think. People are asking, if Gopal can go into the jungles often and meet Veerappan, why can't the police do so?

'Earlier, I met only one Veerappan, and now I am meeting nine Veerappans'

The complete coverage of the Dr Rajakumar kidnap drama

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