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The Rediff Special/ R Gopal

'They do not want Veerappan to surrender. They wanted him to kill at least one person so they could claim he was a man who drank blood!'

Since October 9, the day when Veerappan abducted six persons from the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary,Nakkeeran editor R Gopal has been incommunicado. (Barring a brief interview to Rediff On The NeT on the evening of the abduction.) He has refused to comment, refused requests to act negotiator a second time and, despite continued appeals from the relatives of the abducted, stuck to his decision.

Why? Because, like he tells Shobha Warrier, there were allegations galore about his role in securing the release of nine kidnapped forest personnel from Veerappan in August. In fact, some had even called it nothing but a charade, a 'drama'.

Now that Veerappan has released the hostages, a relieved Gopal has emerged from self-imposed exile. In his first interview after the incident, the Madras-based editor answers his critics and shares his impressions about the most wanted man in India.

Were you expecting such a happy ending to the crisis? This was a rare gesture for Veerappan.

I was sure Veerappan would not kill them.


I have met him quite a few times now. I know how he was earlier and how much he has changed. I had told him he should understand the difference between ordinary people and politicians. More than the politicians, it is the people who are watching him closely. When I brought back those nine hostages, people felt he has changed from a hardcore criminal to a human being. But certain people preferred to call it a drama.

Is it not true that the sympathy he got from the people has reduced considerably after the latest abduction? Now even the general public feel he should not be pardoned.

Yes, whatever sympathy he got earlier is not there now. It came as a shock when he abducted six people again. People felt he was becoming an animal again. I too felt cheated. But not anymore -- now that he has freed the hostages unharmed, I feel relieved.

This time also Veerappan sent a message he wanted to meet you. Why did you refuse to go?

It was not because I was angry with him. Do you know I talked and talked with him for nearly 40 hours to get those nine released? But some politicians and a section of the press started questioning my sincerity. Worse, even as I was negotiating with him, Jayalaitha (Jayaram) issued statements to provoke him. She did not want him to surrender. They wanted him to kill at least one person so they could claim Veerappan was a man who drank blood!

I felt so happy when Rajni (Rajnikanth, the Tamil superstar) called me home, hugged me and congratulated me on my success. Jayalalitha and the others wanted to belittle what I had achieved.

There is this big man called Cho (Ramaswamy) who asked, 'Are you a postman who has gone to deliver a money order?' While he was sitting comfortably in his room and writing, I went deep inside the jungle, risking my life. And these people -- Cho, Subramanian Swamy, V Gopalaswamy, Jayalalitha etc -- sit here and criticise me! How can you call this a drama? Why would the chief ministers of two states, their chief secretaries, police officials, hostages, Veerappan, Nakkeeran and the numerous wild animals in the jungle together enact a drama for the sake of these critics?

But despite such criticism, did you feel guilty about turning down the pleas of the hostages's relatives?

When Dr Maiti's wife came here, I told her, 'Amma, how will I go? What will I take with me, the same conditions which he had earlier rejected?' And she understood my plight.

I was extremely hurt by the criticisms I did everything without expecting anything. But I did not expect this kind of behaviour from any quarters. That was one reason why I didn't go. Then again, last time both the governments had some conditions for him to surrender. Veerappan just glanced through those and tore up the paper. This time the government did not have anything new to offer. So what would I have taken with me? The same conditions? He would have shouted 'Are you playing a joke at me? I didn't want that to happen.

Can you believe, the Karnataka police went and interrogated those nine hostages? Why? They wanted to find out whether there was any link between Veerappan and Nakkeeran. That was very insulting. But those nine people drove those policemen away. They look at me as god because they think without me they would not have come out alive.

On one side, you are asking me to help bring hostages back; on the other, you are suspecting my sincerity and integrity! This is very, very disturbing and humiliating.

Veerappan has offered to surrender several times. In fact, every time he made an offer, he killed somebody who went to negotiate the terms. Why do you feel that he really wants to surrender now?

I don't believe those stories. There were no direct talks between Veerappan and the official emissaries. Yes, there were talks through intermediates, but the officials's intention was to kill him. Veerappan's plan was also to kill the officials. I am the only person who has met him face to face.

And you have faith in Veerappan?

Yes, 100 per cent. He could have killed those six hostages, but didn't. That itself shows he has changed. It shows he has become a human being, a man with a heart.

Do you think the touching appeal made by Dr Maiti's wife might have moved him?

Many appealed to him to release those innocent people. I also talked to him through BBC. I told him why I couldn't go. I didn't want anything to happen to those hostages.

The governments also threatened to send the army after him. Do you feel Veerappan released them because of that?

I don't think he released them because he was scared. He has become a human being. That's why he set them free.

Nobody -- not the paramilitary, not the army -- will be able to catch him from inside. I am sure about it. Didn't they do all they could to catch him before? Didn't they sent the Border Security Force after him? What was the result?

Let the authorities send whom they please, but the sufferers will be the people who live in and around the forest.

Walter Dawaram is confident he would be able to catch him.

It is a stunt. He was in power for five years. What did he do?

He has reduced the strength of Veerappan's gang from 150 to 5.

Veerappan says he had 130 people. Dawaram says he has killed 145 people. Now you tell me, who is the bigger Veerappan?

But he is a police officer. He was trying to catch a criminal.

What I mean is that the 145 who were killed include many innocents. Tell me, why should Veerappan have 150 men with him? Is he running an army?

If you were to meet Veerappan again, would you be able to convince him to surrender?

Definitely, I am positive about it.

Do you think the governments are not really interested in his surrender?

Yes, that's the truth. If they would reconsider the conditions and do something about it, I am positive we would be able to persuade him. The governments forget about his surrender as soon as they get the hostages back. They start thinking about it only when another crisis arises.

The army is not a solution at all -- Veerappan is not scared of guns. What we should do is persuade him to change his attitude through dialogue. Hasn't he changed already? He released the hostages whom he could have killed very easily. I tell you there is a human being inside even criminals -- and Veerappan is turning into one. Everybody should understand that.

'They want to kill me. What is wrong in me killing someone who is trying to kill me?'

Veerappan releases hostages
Panel clears STF of charges of killing Veerappan's brother
Brave Karnataka CM agrees to hunt Veerappan personally
The R Gopal Chat
Veerappan delays surrender; releases hostages

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