November 7, 2000


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Maran, not Veerappan, on Karunanidhi's mind

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

First, it was Maran, the pan-Tamil associate of brigand Veerappan. Then came Nedumaran and his associate Sukumaran, the pan-Tamil leaders who accompanied journalist-emissary into the forests on the fifth leg of negotiations for obtaining freedom for kidnapped Kannada matinee icon. Now comes, Murasoli Maran, the Union industry minister, whose hospitalisation in Madras has pushed the Rajakumar kidnap episode to a comparative background.

With Murasoli Maran's condition said to be a cause for concern, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi spending much of the past 24 hours in Apollo Hospital by his side, and with the DMK leadership standing by as a morale-booster, the discussions on the Supreme Court verdict against freedom for Veerappan's associates has been confined mostly to officialdom. "We are studying not only the verdict, but also the evolving situation," says an official source.

Unlike in other cases, there is little that can be achieved by the state government filing a review petition in the Supreme Court for a fresh look-in into the verdict, although the sources do not rule it out as totally out of hand. "Any such suggestion can be seriously considered only after we go through the full text of the Supreme Court verdict," says the source, pointing out however, "Even a review petition would go only before the same Bench that has pronounced the verdict now."

Simultaneously, the state government is said to be considering the possibility of sending journalist-emissary Nakkeeran Gopal and also Nedumaran and company, to convince Veerappan and his pan-Tamil associates, on the logic behind the Supreme Court verdict. "A decision however will have to be taken in consultation with the Karnataka government," says the source.

As may be pointed out, there had been vague suggestions of Karnataka sending emissaries of its own, or sending them with those from Tamil Nadu. "However, it is for Veerappan to decide whether he wants to meet anyone now, or whom he wants to meet," says the source. In this context, he refers to the repeated assertions of Karnataka Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, and Law Minister D B Chandre Gowda.

Though no decision seems to have been taken on the emissaries leaving for Veerappan country, an early departure is not entirely ruled out. "We have to convey the implications of the Supreme Court verdict to the two state governments, and our inability to meet Veerappan's demand for freeing the NSA-TADA detenues in the prisons of the two states."

That way, official sources concede that the negotiations may now have been deadlocked in the light of the Supreme Court verdict. However, they hope that Veerappan and his pan-Tamil allies would appreciate the intention of the two state governments, to withdraw the cases against the 126 Veerappan associates in the two states, as demanded by the brigand.

"If the demand has not been met, it is not for want of good intentions," says the official, referring to the early days of the negotiations, when a single demand from Veerappan may have been met without much resistance, or difficulty. "Instead, he and his advisors seemed keen on sending out a political message by clubbing together a host of demands that could not be met. Some of them also distracted from the seriousness of the situation. By the time Veerappan came down to a more immediate and more purposeful demand from his angle, time had passed up on all of us."

For the present, the sources refer to two other options now before the state government. One relates to a recent direction passed by a division bench of the Madras high court, seeking details of all detentions without trial, where the detenues have not been briefed about their rights. The court has directed the matter to be taken up as a habeas corpus petition, suo motu, in the light of a Supreme Court judgment, ordering freedom in such cases.

Alternatively, the two state governments will have to order early prosecution and trial of all Veerappan associates mentioned by the brigand. "A trial court verdict, whatever that be, should convince the brigand, that the law would take its own course, even if belated," says the source. "After all, Veerappan's basic grouse is that his associates, and those is his pan-Tamil allies, are being held without trial for too long a period."

For the present, official sources rule out any direct action. "True, the Supreme Court may have come down heavily on the two state governments on the Veerappan issue, but that by itself should not be taken as a licence, or even a direction, for initiating direct action. That would mean risking Rajakumar's life, and provoking Veerappan, who has been treating the thespian with the respect and regard due to him."

Anyway, all such decisions needs to be taken by the Karnataka government, which has ruled it out straightaway from the very beginning.

Indications are that the state government would review the situation once Murasoli Maran's condition stabilised, and the chief minister and his senior cabinet colleagues are in a better frame of mind for tackling the emerging situation on the Veerappan front. Though Maran has been in hospital since October 28, it was only on Tuesday, November 7, that Apollo Hospital came out with a detailed medical assessment, which again said precious little.

Maran was rushed to the hospital after he is believed to have complained of uneasiness in the chest region. However, the first medical report issued the very day, referred only to an 'acute episode of migraine' which Murasoli Maran is known to be suffering from. It was only on Tuesday that Apollo Hospitals Chairman, Dr Pratap C Reddy, met the media to confirm that a pace-maker had been installed on Monday night, which had triggered a flurry of activity, with Karunanidhi himself spending most of the night in the hospital.

For Karunanidhi, Maran is not only his party's senior minister in the Vajpayee government. Maran is Karunanidhi's maternal nephew, and has also been the eyes, ears and mouth of the DMK leadership at Delhi. That being the case, most of his cabinet colleagues and also DMK legislators rushed to the hospital to be by the side of Karunanidhi, when the state assembly adjourned for the day, after an obliging Opposition TMC staged a walkout seeking an instant debate on the Supreme Court verdict in the Veerappan case.

With Speaker P T R Palanivel Rajan ruling that the House could not debate the supplementary demands for grants without the Opposition, the assembly was adjourned for the day. For his part, the speaker has now promised a debate on the Veerappan issue, particularly the Supreme Court verdict, on Thursday, when a clearer picture may emerge on the Tamil Nadu government's thinking on the Rajakumar kidnap episode.

The Rajakumar Abduction: complete coverage
The saga of Veerappan

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