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|December 2, 1997||
Veerappan's surrender offer has no takers
N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
Call it a trick of fate, call it whatever you like -- but the situation, today, is that Veerappan has no takers.
Not so long ago, two state governments were after the bandit, doing all but begging him to surrender. Today, when he wants to lay down arms and "return to the mainstream", the same governments are too busy to even listen to what he has to say.
Not even the media, national or local, is prepared to waste column inches on the sandalwood smuggler and self-confessed killer. With the Jain Commission report -- and the DMK's presence in the dock -- to occupy their attention, Veerappan suddenly has become pretty small fry. Veerappan, in brief, can wait -- or, at best, be consigned to an "also present" in the inside pages.
As for the DMK, the last thing a party alleged to have created conditions conducive for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi wants, right now, is to be seen as sympathetic towards a common criminal credited with the deaths of 125 human beings. With the result that the TN government has taken a hardline stance towards Nakkeeran R Gopal's latest foray into the forests to meet with Veerappan.
The smuggler, in fact, relayed through Gopal a face-saving formula the like of which a Sitaram Kesri would have been happy with in the current political scenario. However, just as the United Front turned a blind eye to the Kesri formula, so too the DMK, a UF constituent, plays deaf to the Veerappan formula.
Meanwhile, the Special Task Force has been woken up from hibernation, and the thinking seems to be that there will be no more talks with the brigand -- he either surrenders on deadline, or takes his chances against the guns of the STF.
So, for the first time perhaps in his career, Veerappan finds himself really on the run. And if there is one thing he fears, it is capture -- the police forces of both states have long memories, stained with the blood of their slain colleagues, and it is odds on that once the brigand falls into their hands, he is in for a torrid time.
True, Veerappan has had the STF on his trail before, and thumbed his nose at them successfully. This time round, however, the situation is different -- Veerappan realises that the STF, this time, will be augmented by the commando forces of the federal government, once the monsoons abate and the troops find increased mobility. For now, the heavy rains and frequent landslides in the region mean that no commando troop is willing to take chances. This gives Veerappan a respite, but once the rains stop, the chances are that his hunters will pull out all the stops.
All this is why Veerappan has increasingly toned down his demands. Now, all he wants is a panel enquiry into the deaths of innocent men, adequate compensation for the slain, a CBI enquiry into the death in custody of his brother Arjunan, and bail for his gang members now in custody. All of which marks a drastic comedown from the high horse he was on earlier, when he demanded nothing less than general amnesty -- guaranteed in writing by the President, no less -- and several million rupees by way of compensation.
"The government is now pushing him hard, but it should not be too hard," says a source in the TN government. "Remember, he still has the ability to enact another kidnap, to cause more deaths. A showdown could prove costly."
If Veerappan is behind the eight ball, then the case of Gopal, editor of Nakkeeran, is worse. Not so long ago, he was a national hero, with two chief ministers begging him to intercede and procure the release of hostages of the brigand. Today, Gopal is a contact of a murderer -- and just the other day, a lowly police superintendent of Erode district issued him a summons demanding that he part with information about Veerappan's whereabouts.
More, TN chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi refused to meet with him when he returned from the jungles, and the state government officials did not even bother to view the videotape he brought back, detailing his latest meeting with Veerappan. Instead, came a public statement that the government has not authorised Gopal to treat with Veerappan.
"I will not betray Veerappan," Gopal said about the summons for information.
And it is this statement, at a press conference, that has made Gopal be counted a friend of the outlaw and, therefore, an enemy of the law.
Not that this seems to worry the editor who has, in his time, faced harassment from police and government and even gone as high as the Supreme Court to defend the principle of freedom of the press.
Meanwhile, in the jungles bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, a smuggler and mass killer waits. For a government to find the time to let him surrender. Or for a commando troop to go in, guns cocked, to try and put an end to his bloody saga.
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