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|August 27, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ M D Riti
While police security was focused on Kannada matinee idol Dr Rajakumar's visit to his hometown in Gajanur from where Veerappan kidnapped him on July 31, 2000, India's notorious brigand struck again. This time Veerappan kidnapped former Karnataka minister H Nagappa when he was visiting his native village Kamagere in Chamarajnagar district.
The latest abduction has again thrown Karnataka in a tizzy, forcing Chief Minister S M Krishna to cancel his visit to the United States. Even as the police launch a manhunt and the chief ministers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu meet to discuss the kidnapping, questions are being thrown up about why Veerappan abducted Nagappa.
It is well known, for instance, that Veerappan would love to get his hands on police officers like Shankar Bidri, who headed the Special Task Force that set out to hunt down the dacoit almost 10 years ago.
"I am the man Veerappan hates the most," Shankar Bidri told rediff with a cynical smile. "I know what I have done to him and his band. He knows what he has done to me and my brother officers. And God in heaven knows the extent of all our dealings with each other."
Two-and-a-half years ago, police officer K Arakesh gave the Karnataka government a list of men he considered were at maximum risk of being kidnapped by Veerappan. The names on the list, besides Dr Rajakumar, were social worker H Sudarshan, maverick politician Vatal Nagaraj, former legislator Raju Gowda and Nagappa. All five men had one thing in common: they either lived in or often visited the areas near Veerappan's terrain.
Nagaraj leads a pro-Kannada movement, the Kannada Chaluvali. That is obviously why someone like Veerappan, known to be something of a pro-Tamil activist himself, would be out to grab him. Sudarshan and Dr Rajakumar were potential victims because both men are celebrities and could therefore bring the government quickly to the negotiation table.
The other two politicians belong to a different category. Raju Gowda is alleged to have patronised Veerappan a decade or more ago and partly enabled him to grow from a small-time poacher to the dreaded name that he is today. However, this alleged nexus is believed to have withered away over the years, and the police believe Veerappan would like to capture Gowda and settle a few old scores with him.
As for Nagappa, his friends say he came down heavily on illegal granite quarrying during the last Janata Dal regime when he was a minister, and which is why Veerappan has it in for him.
Granite is the factor connecting Veerappan and sundry politicians, especially in the Chamarajnagar region, over the years. Granite quarrying is now banned in Karnataka. This ban on quarrying was first imposed in 1992 in Veerappan territory because quarry owners supposedly supplied Veerappan with explosives.
However, illegal quarrying and smuggling has been going on without a break. A senior officer at Karnataka's sole government-owned granite company says granite is smuggled out even from government-owned quarries. He said the ban and smuggling costs the government dearly in lost royalty payments and revenues.
This nexus between the Karnataka politicians, police and Veerappan first came into the open when assistant sub-inspector Shakeel Ahmed was killed in an ambush by Veerappan and his men in 1992, soon after quarrying was banned. Ahmed was seeking to implement that ban. His father Abdul Kareem, a retired police officer, alleges that Ahmed was killed as part of a conspiracy between Karnataka police officers and Veerappan.
"My father will be able to substantiate his charge that a police officer was involved in a conspiracy with the quarry contractors and sandalwood smugglers in Veerappan's gang to murder Shakeel and (police officer) T Harekrishna in the Meenyam forest range," says Shakeel's elder brother Jameel Ahmed, a professor at Mysore University. "Circumstantial evidence in the operation not only points to it, but confirms my father's perception."
The ban on quarrying was lifted two years ago. One month after it was lifted, Veerappan kidnapped Dr Rajakumar (left), and the ban was re-imposed. Was there a connection between the two events? Dr Rajakumar's youngest son Puneet had leased granite quarries and was in the business for a while.
Puneet indignantly denies any link. "This is certainly not true," he says. "My investment in granite was barely over Rs 200,000, and it was all in the Kanakapura region, just outside Bangalore, not near Kollegal. I got out of the granite business more than three years ago." That was soon after the police seized some of his lorries carrying granite, and his family thought it was wise for him to get out of a business that did not enjoy an image of being clean or wholesome.
Coincidentally, the granite lobby got Dr Rajakumar out of Veerappan's clutches. Dr Bhanu, the woman whom the actor publicly eulogised as the 'goddess' who rescued him, is a businesswoman dealing in granite.
Ever since Dr Rajakumar was released, at least two well-known Karnataka police officers H T Sangliana and Kempaiah have tried to track Veerappan down. Both men eventually moved on to other jobs. Both tried their best to establish an intelligence network amongst the tribals who inhabit the jungles where Veerappan roams, knowing this is probably the best way to get to Veerappan.
The old intelligence network in the villages is of little use now. Many 'police informers' have become double agents, in the pay of both Veerappan and the police. Villagers live in daily fear of both Veerappan and his men, and the police. The police have been trying hard to rebuild the villagers' faith in their good intentions and are seeking to publicise adequately Veerappan's villainy, but so far it has not had much effect.
After Dr Rajakumar's kidnapping ended, there was speculation that Veerappan might have left India. But Sangliana insisted Veerappan was very much in the jungles and had not emigrated to Sri Lanka or anywhere else. "Veerappan is like an active volcano," he told rediff a year ago. "He could erupt at any moment. We must take action to neutralise him immediately. If his next hostage is another VIP, we will all be in the same boat again."
Design: Rajesh Karkera
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