If I am ever kidnapped, I hope you never even think of releasing any militants to have me freed!'' Thus said Rajiv Gandhi, then Leader of the Opposition, speaking to the Lok Sabha. He was speaking on the debate that ensued after some terrorists were taken out of gaol to liberate Rubaiya, daughter of the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Rajiv Gandhi claimed that he was quoting what his daughter, Priyanka, had told him earlier that day.
As a rule, I am less than interested in what Mrs Priyanka Vadra has to say. But I must confess that I would like to know what she thinks of the manner in which the Government of Karnataka handled the kidnapping of H Nagappa. It was easy to criticise the misdeeds of the National Front administration, but what is her reaction to a ministry run by her own party, the Congress (I)? I am afraid that no politician save one -- which I shall come to later -- has come out of the affair with any credit.
For the record, let me state that no party has a good record when it comes to handling kidnapping. If the National/United/Third Front had its Rubaiya Sayeed affair and the Congress (I) its Nagappa, then the nadir came under the current, Bharatiya Janata Party-led administration three years ago. Or has everyone forgotten the abject surrender of the Indian republic during the hijacking of Flight IC-814?
To refresh everyone's memory, that fiasco ended with the then external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, escorting Maulana Masood Azhar and his comrades to Taliban-ruled Kandahar. Adding insult to injury, India was asked to pay US $25,000 by way of 'landing rights' so that the Indian Airlines plane carrying the 'negotiators' and a medical team could land in Afghanistan.
To the best of my knowledge, there has been no subsequent effort to make the hijackers pay for this outrage. The murderers of Rupin Katyal are roaming about free as the air, at perfect liberty to commit as many more crimes as they like. In the ignoble history of India's appeasement of criminals, that surrender at Kandahar was by far the worst. (I cannot understand even now why it was necessary to send our external affairs minister in person to bend the knee before Mullah Omar and his disciples.)
So, how does this tie up with the murder of Nagappa? Well, everyone has been shying away from one simple truth: Veerappan is a terrorist. He is not a "bandit", or a "sandalwood smuggler", or even a "kidnapper" -- the description most frequently applied to him. I know that the word 'terrorist' has a particular resonance these days, but I use it advisedly. It is my firm conviction that Veerappan is linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which is a terrorist group however much some people try to gloss over the fact. I admit that I cannot prove that statement. But permit me to give you some facts that you may judge for yourself.
Two years ago, Veerappan kidnapped the actor Rajakumar from Gajanur village. The thespian's release came under circumstances that haven't been explained even today. But my sources insist that a massive ransom was paid. Shortly after this, a large sum of money found its way into the coffers of the then cash-strapped Tigers. This might be dismissed as coincidence, but nobody has come up with an explanation for this sudden influx of funds to the terrorists. Moreover, please understand that Veerappan himself has made no secret of his sympathy for the Tigers.
I do not say that Rajakumar's ransom was paid by the Government of Karnataka. But I am fairly certain that this was done with a wink and a nod from Bangalore. Yet the S M Krishna ministry appears to have learned nothing from that whole episode.
Two years ago it considered Veerappan's demand that 125 crooks be released quite seriously. In 2002 it went a step further -- and actually proposed withdrawing all the cases against Kolathur Mani (the man proposed by Veerappan as a 'negotiator'). The general lack of political will is amply demonstrated by the fact that this was apparently approved by every major party!
This brings me to the sole exception I mentioned earlier, Jayalalithaa. The chief minister of Tamil Nadu declared forthrightly that Mani would be arrested the minute he set foot in her state. In the ultimate analysis, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu is absolutely correct. (As was the teenaged Priyanka Gandhi.) Terrorism must be fought, not appeased.
We in India are fond of wondering how serious the United States is about the "war on terrorism" if it chooses to adopt Pakistan as an ally. Let me urge introspection: can any country take us seriously as an ally given India's record of appeasing terrorists?