September 21, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/S R Govindu, President of the All-Karnataka Rajakumar Fans' Association

'If there is trouble now, the SC will be held responsible'

Will they wait for forest brigand Veerappan to release Kannada film icon Dr Rajakumar out of goodness? Or will they take to the streets and burn buses, agitating for his release? With the Supreme Court postponing hearings on the release of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act detenues till October 11, all eyes are now on the superstar's powerful fan club, the All-Karnataka Rajakumar Fans' Association.

It is seen as the only group that can exert pressure on the Karnataka government to get the President to tell the Supreme Court to advance its decision, or devise a strategy to get Rajakumar home quickly.

On the eve of the association staging a state-wide silent protest procession, M D Riti met association president S R Govindu, who has led the association for over 15 years and is also a film producer and vice president of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce. The conversation was laced with veiled threats, but Govindu refused to be drawn into an openly intimidating stance.

Do you plan action to end the stalemate in the Rajakumar abduction case?

We will hold silent protest rallies all over Karnataka, as a symbol of how we are forced to watch and suffer silently in the absence of Rajakumar. As the case is with the SC, we cannot do much. We can only try to gather people together and bring pressure on the Centre, whether it is the prime minister or the President. After all, the Centre has acknowledged that Rajakumar is a national asset. It has presented him the Padma Bhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke awards. The SC could have declared the TADA detenues guilty or innocent, but it should not have postponed the case for three weeks.

We are living in a nationally integrated manner in Karnataka now. The SC is now creating a situation in which it is setting Tamilians and Kannadigas against each another, and asking them to battle. How can you ask the people to suppress emotions and wait for 20 days more for justice? They have been patient for more than 50 days. If there is any trouble now, the SC will be responsible.

If a prime minister or a president was kidnapped, would the SC have adopted such a stance? Rajakumar is no less than a prime minister or president.

When there was the likelihood of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray being arrested, did not the courts give an immediate decision, fearing a law and order problem? The SC should have similarly considered what may happen in Karnataka now.

How many people are expected to participate in the protest?

Not many. We took a sudden decision after the SC verdict, so we have not had time to involve many fans. We just want to ensure that the people of Karnataka do not simply forget that Rajakumar is still in the jungles.

So you are not attempting any show of strength?

Certainly not. We would need a week to display the might of Rajakumar's power. This is not our intention, as Rajakumar himself is simple and does not believe in any kind of public show. He wears a dhoti and a shirt.

It is unusual for your association to adopt this style of silent protest.

Speeches or protests are not going to help us get Rajakumar released. We are exerting pressure on the Centre, the state and Veerappa (Kannadigas refer to him as Veerappa). Veerappa knows everything, right from how to kill and how to escape from punishment, what is the law and its loopholes.

We are trying to tell him now that if the SC stays the release of the detenues because Shakeel's father Abdul Kareem filed a case, it will take a decision on their fate shortly. Lawyers too have broadcast messages to him that the father of a man he killed has gone to court now. It is not fair to penalise 72-year-old Rajakumar for this and hold him prisoner in the jungles. If he were 25 years old, we would not have been worried. If Rajakumar's health is affected now, nobody will be able to protect anyone in Karnataka. Veerappa must now think of how he can suppress the anger of the Kannadigas now.

Veerappa must now recognise the power of the shakti he has taken prisoner. He has had all demands fulfilled through him. All that remains is the release of TADA detenues in both states. After all, these people who may have been sentenced to a maximum two to three years, have now endured seven to eight years in prison already. Kannadigas want the SC to take a quick decision.

Was Kareem right in filing a case in the SC against the release of TADA detenues at this juncture?

No. His son was killed eight years ago. Kareem was an upright and outspoken police officer and we share his sorrow and pain over the loss of his son. But he should have recognised what a sensitive issue this is, as Rajakumar is adored by all in Karnataka. Kareem may have lost his son, but the responsibility of saving the lives of thousands of innocent people of Karnataka is now in his hands.

If he withdraws his case, he will become truly great and noble. We are willing to help him achieve his demands. What was he doing for eight years, since his son's death?

We request him now to withdraw his case and prevent any unfortunate incident.

What unfortunate incident do you expect?

Four people have committed suicide because Rajakumar was kidnapped. If anything happens to Rajakumar, thousands of people will commit suicide. I am not saying that his fans will harass others. All they will do is kill themselves. What wrong have Tamilians who live in Karnataka done? Are they responsible for Veerappa's wicked acts? Certainly not.

Rajakumar is not connected to this. He is an innocent and has never spoken ill of anyone or condemned Veerappa's acts, or involved himself in politics. Why torture an artiste who limited himself to his spiritual world and his career in performing arts?

Has your association matured over the years? You used to be much more volatile and easily ignited to physical action 15-20 years ago.

(Govindu's aide nods a yes.) Our reach, and therefore our power and responsibility, have grown tremendously. So we have taken care to continuously caution people against resorting to any physical action. After the Cauvery agitation, even Tamilians in Karnataka display great regard for the culture and needs of Karnataka. They are no different from us Kannadigas now. This is why we feel that some innocent people should not suffer because of Veerappa's bad deeds.

Are you satisfied with the efforts of the Karnataka Government to get Rajakumar back?

Yes, the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have done their best. Only some bureaucrats have been responsible for delays and goof-ups.

Are you happy with emissary R R Gopal's efforts?

We are a very trusting people. Gopal said, on his return from the forest, that he had seen god in the form of Rajakumar. So we have no suspicion about his intentions and genuineness.

So you will now wait patiently, in silent protest, for the SC's next hearing on October 11?

We can indulge in violence to attract the attention of the Centre, but that will only lead to a backlash. Besides, we do not believe that Rajakumar will return by indulging in looting and rioting. We appeal instead, quite humbly, to the Centre, to release these detenues who are, after all, far less dangerous than the men they released to rescue Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's daughter. There is no point in the Centre offering to send military forces to nab Veerappa at this juncture.

Ultimately, Veerappa should think about this and take the right decision. He knows all about the legal process. If he does not release Rajakumar now, god will never forgive him. Besides, he should take into consideration whether we will all be able to live together like this in Karnataka in an atmosphere of love and mutual understanding. Some of us may be quiet, others will not. After all, people of Karnataka are privileged to have had a Rajakumar born in our midst, and it is our duty to do anything to save him.

Are you saying that the Kannadigas may get overwhelmed by emotion and take it out on Tamilians in Karnataka?

Well, people may get emotional because Rajakumar was abducted in Tamil Nadu. However, the Kannadigas must also realise that it is neither Tamilians living here nor the Tamil Nadu government that is responsible. It is only Veerappa the individual. It would be wrong for us to either attack Tamilians in Karnataka or harass them for this.

During the Cauvery riots of 1991, when Tamilians living in Karnataka said please leave water for Tamil Nadu, everyone got angry with them. Now, the same people are praying for Rajakumar's quick release. They say that Veerappa is neither their leader nor do they need him to safeguard their well-being. They say, if Veerappa is willing to take the 40-50 lakh Tamilians in Karnataka away with him, and take care of them with all facilities, let him keep Rajakumar. If not, let him release Rajakumar now.

When Rajakumar returns, do you anticipate a Tamil backlash?

Perhaps stray incidents. Because once Rajakumar returns, the people's attention will get diverted to celebration and jubilation. After all, the Tamilians of Karnataka are now supporting the Kannadigas' endeavours to get Rajakumar back. We too have advised the Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu to learn the language of that state and adopt its culture, if they are living there.

And if he does not return alive?

I cannot even imagine the consequences of such a dreadful occurrence!

And if he remains in Veerappan's custody indefinitely?

As long as our treasure is in Veerappa's hands, our hands are tied. We can do nothing. You have seen how uneventful the past days have been, in terms of violence. If Veerappa or his cohorts were to fall into the hands of Kannadigas, of course, it would be different!

You say that Veerappan's demands have been met now, barring the release of prisoners. Does that imply that you know he has been paid the ransom? And, if yes, how much?

There is no record of his having demanded money. The government insists he has not. Anyway, he certainly would need money to exist, and they might have given one or two crores. The people do not really care about that. In fact, Veerappa could even have asked for amnesty, but has not. I would prefer that he accept his wrong-doings and seeks pardon instead of trying to break up a people on linguistic lines.

I would say to him, if you want to grow politically, go ahead. Phoolan Devi has been pardoned and is a parliamentarian. Why should you not enjoy that status too? Leave behind all that, get pardoned and become a human being. If you forget all your mistakes, you will become great. But if a hitherto united people get fragmented, it is you, Veerappa, who is directly to blame.

The Rediff Interviews

The Rajakumar Abduction: complete coverage
The saga of Veerappan

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