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Veerappan's fed up of life on the run

Veerappan has apparently had enough.

The bandit has indicated that he's fed up of life on the run, and wishes to "join the mainstream".

Dr Satyabrata Maiti, the horticulture scientist from Bangalore who was one of the six hostages released by Veerappan, said the bandit appeared to have a sudden change of mind when he abruptly freed the hostages at a spot about 20 km away from the Bandipore national park, around 1100 hours on Tuesday morning.

The release came four days before the deadline fixed by the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

And some interesting speculation centres around whether the release was provoked by the fact that for the first time, the two governments had taken a flat-out, hardline stance. Earlier, it was Veerappan giving out the demands and the deadlines -- this time round, Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel had come up with a flat pronouncement that there would be no negotiations, that Veerappan had until October 25 to release the hostages, or face the consequences.

Maiti in fact told the media that Veerappan had indeed expected that Nakkeeran editor R Gopal would, as he had the last time, be sent into the forests as the government emissary to negotiate the release of the hostages. That, in the event, did not happen.

The six hostages meanwhile reached the Bandipore forest guest house at 2230 hours after a long, hard trek and took to bed to sleep off the exhaustion. Dr Maiti, however, took the time to despatch to Patel an audio cassette which had been entrusted to him by Veerappan, containing the bandit's desire to "return to the mainstream".

And what was the substance of Veerappan's monologue on the tape? While Dr Maiti had not listened to it, he indicated that the bandit had reiterated his request that he and his gang be given amnesty -- a request, or demand, that has already been turned down by both governments.

Dr Maiti also said that Veerappan was particular that when and if he surrendered, he should not be handed over to the Karnataka police. Apparently the bandit fears that he will be killed in a fake encounter.

On Wednesday afternoon, the six hostages had a meal together at the home of wildlife photographers Krupakar and Senanai, their comrades in captivity, before proceeding to their respective homes.

So what's life with Veerappan like? Dr Maiti said that for one thing, it was an ambulatory lifestyle -- the bandits and their hostages camped in four different locations, and trekked over 100 kms, during the 13 days of their captivity.

The hostages indicated that Veerappan, for all his murderous track record, was very courteous to them during the period. "He ate only after we were served," said Dr Maiti, adding that the daily menu was unvarying -- rice and sambar.

For the first two days, the hostages were chained together -- the fetters however being done away with subsequently.

Dr Maiti was all praise for the bandit's leadership qualities and the loyalty he commanded from his band. However, the most interesting revelation was that the band of outlaws, who have for over six years held the twin governments of TN and Karnataka to ransom, now comprises just seven members, all below 25 years of age.

A horticulturist himself, Dr Maiti confessed that he was very impressed by Veerappan's jungle craft, and his knowledge of the various fauna and flora.

Dr Maiti appeared rather unimpressed with the media in general, saying that a lot of reports that have appeared about Veerappan's hideouts is pure uninformed junk. "All through the 13 days, we were kept in open spaces -- not in caves and houses," he said.

Truck driver Anwar Pasha, an employee of the forest department and one of the hostages, agreed with Maiti about Veerappan's conduct. "While he threatened that we would be killed if his demands were not met, he never harassed us," Pasha said.

Apparently Veerappan's real aim was to kidnap people very senior in administration or government, in order to gain that extra leverage. Two attempts however failed, leading him to capture the six Karnataka forest department employees.

But yes, Dr Maiti does have one grouse with the brigand -- and it relates to lost time. "The 13 days I have spent in captivity have cost me a year's worth of research," he said, without elaborating.

The Man Who Hunted Veerappan

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