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Karunanidhi taking a big chance with Veerappan mediation

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

Has Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi bitten more than he can chew when he said Tamil Nadu would deal with Veerappan?

According to an informed source in Madras, there was no compelling reason for the state to have offered to secure the release of nine Karnataka forest personnel, especially since Veerappan had come up with some atrocious conditions.

It was the Tamil Nadu government that decided to send an emissary to Veerappan. "Given the fact that it was Kannadiga lives that were involved, the Karnataka government should have been anxious. Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel did make the appropriate noises when the Tamil Nadu government came up with the proposal but he could not be seen to be wanting in sympathy," the source said.

He pointed out that the Tamil Nadu chief minister could have stopped with asking Nakkeeraneditor R Gopal to mediate between Veerappan and the Karnataka government.

"The rest, the Karnataka government could have handled through the journalist directly. Now, if Gopal succeeds in getting the nine hostages released, it will be hailed as proof of Patel's strategy -- and he will share the limelight. If it fails, however, then Karunanidhi will have to bear the cross alone," he said, adding that no government could meet Veerappan's original demands.

Other political sources said Karunanidhi's image would take a bad beating if the Gopal mission fails and if Veerappan kills the hostages. As it is, Karunanidhi has many problems in the last one-and-a half years, including the failure of the Cauvery talks, the Telugu-Ganga drama and his involvement in not letting G K Moopanar, chief of electoral ally Tamil Maanila Congress, from becoming premier.

But sources in the state government are confident the Gopal mission will succeed.

"The very fact that Veerappan wants all his cases in Karnataka transferred to Tamil Nadu, and he wants to be tried here implies that he is willing to submit himself to law. He is obviously using the general amnesty plea as a negotiating point. He is mortally scared that police of either state will annihilate him, given the high casualty figures in his gang's ranks. All this high drama is only to ensure that the whole world is watching, and that he is not eliminated in a fake encounter when he surrenders," one of them said.

But the source could not explain why the Tamil Nadu government had taken such keen interest when Karnataka has not kept its promise to withdraw its special task force in the area. The Tamil Nadu government is still going ahead with its plans to try secure Veerappan's public surrender by August 15, as announced by Karunanidhi, say other informed sources. According to them, the hostages may be released this week itself.

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