The Rediff Special

'You who let Tamil blood flow like water!'

Read the earlier part of this series.

Veerappan is megalomania personified

When he kidnapped forest guards in 1997, analysts rushed to the press with statements of how he was finally tired of life in the jungle and wanted to surrender.

He proved them wrong. Today he doesn't want to give up arms. In the cassette sent to Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna, he said as much: he has a movement to nurture now.

Veerappan is not an easy man to understand.

He is a bunch of contradictions, an epitome of perverted logic.

Roving Editor Ramesh Menon spoke to a range of people to put together this psychological profile of Veerappan.

NAB Koose Muniswamy Veerappan. You will be richer by Rs 4 million.

He is around 50. Has a signature moustache, which he twirls when he is angry.

He has as over 150 cases against him. Is accused of 119 murders. Has smuggled out ivory and sandalwood worth millions of rupees.

He listens to the radio everyday. It is his only link to the world outside.

He loves his nomadic life.

He keeps moving. His legs are not weary even after 35 years of walking the forests -- that too, in bathroom slippers.

He is always in olive uniform. Probably gives him a sense of respectability. He craves for it. He hates introducing himself. Beams when he is recognised.

When he hears references on the radio dubbing him a bandit or forest brigand, he gets mad. He would rather be called a revolutionary.

Put a video camera before him and see him perform.

He loves glorifying himself. It comes naturally.

In case you bump into him in the Satyamangalam forests, please ask him his favourite question: How did he execute his various murders?

Veerappan He will grant you an interview at once. You will see a new energy in him as his eyes light up. There will be a lust for blood in every contour of his face. He will then enact how he mercilessly did his rivals to death.

It could be a police officer. Or a rival gang member. Or an informant. Just about anyone who opposes him.

He spares no one.

The word guilt does not exist for him.

Those who have met Veerappan say that he has no remorse for the 119 murders he committed. His logic is that if someone is out to kill him, he better pull the trigger first.

That he is cruel is an understatement.

Veerappan is said to have strangled his newborn daughter, as he feared that her cries would give away his hideout to the policemen combing the forests.

In an interview to a newsmagazine in May 1993, Veerappan calmly recounted how he had cut his rivals to pieces and fed them to the fish in the Cauvery.

Karnataka Additional Director General of Police M D Singh told rediff.com: "Cruelty is in his blood."

For more than three decades now, he has lived in the forests, battling insects, snakes and leeches. He shifts his base every few days. The sky is his roof. When it rains, a polythene sheet becomes an apology of a tent.

He and his gang live on rice and meat. At various spots in the forest ranges, there are hidden stocks of ration, neatly packaged and stored underground.

Life is not easy. No one is allowed to smoke at night. Even coughing or sneezing must be muffled.

While he sleeps, three men stand guard. And when they rest, he is on guard. His gun has not failed him. No wonder he keeps it so close. Almost like a security pillow.

VEERAPPAN was born into a poor family in Gopinatham village in the Kollegal forest area of Karnataka. He grew up seeing life smirk at him day after day.

On one of his frequent trips to the forest, he met Seviar Gounder, a hardened criminal. He was like the king of the forest. Everyone dreaded him. Veerappan admired him.

Gounder, he noticed, was also better off than his cattle-grazing village friends. He had enough to eat.

Gounder became his alter ego.

At 10, minds are like wet cement. Anything that falls on it makes an impression.

Veerappan was just 13 or 14 when he killed his first elephant. Gounder took him under his wing. The rest is history.

Veerappan always had a warped sense of logic. Here is one of his arguments, as spelt out in a book in Tamil:

"We shoot at the elephant's forehead. It slumps to death without knowing it is dying. It is a good death. Lakhs of birds and insects come to eat it. Of all charity, feeding is the greatest."

He fancies himself as the sole protector of Tamilians. After the Rajakumar kidnap, he claimed to be the upholder of the rights of 60 million Tamilians.

He thinks he can win an election hands down. And will walk tall in public life. Dharampuri and Salem, he says, are two constituencies where he is unbeatable.

That he has tremendous sympathy among the Tamils is not a secret.

When the Cauvery river water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu turned violent, many Tamilians living in the border districts of Karnataka were targeted. The police did little to help them.

To avenge that, Veerappan raided a police station. An excerpt from the interview that shows how his mind works:

"The fellows [Kannidiga policemen] were lying in the police station. I got them straight on my gun... chattar...chattar...chattar... One after the other they died with blood gushing out in streams. You chaps, who let the Tamil blood flow like water!"

He distinctly dislikes Karnataka policemen. He knows that after all his murders, they will not let him live. No wonder that when he asked for amnesty a few years ago, one of his conditions was that he be housed in Tamil Nadu, and not made to appear in any court in Karnataka.

In 1995, he said he would surrender. His conditions: Surrender before the President only, Black Cats to be provided for security, a 100-year lease for granite quarrying, exclusive right to make a film on himself and permission to retain nine pairs of elephant tusks!

But take heart, Veerappan is changing.

When he offered to surrender in August 1997, the colour of his demands changed: a) The chief ministers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu should give in writing that he would be released after two years of detention without trial, and b) they pay Rs 5 million as compensation.

And now, he is talking of settling the Cauvery water dispute, Tamil as a language of instruction in schools, better wages for tea garden workers etc! He fancies himself as a revolutionary, not just a bandit anymore.

Cho Ramaswamy, the noted satarist, told rediff.com that Veerappan has been made to feel important by both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Said he: "Both the chief ministers, [K] Karunanidhi and [S M] Krishna have started behaving like his personal assistants taking down orders from him and discussing how it could be respected. It is disgusting."

In official circles, there is no one who believes that this is Veerappan talking. Police officials in both states told rediff.com that he has allowed some Tamil extremists to massage his ego and is now talking their language.

PRAISE Veerappan and he will like you instantly.

"No one has ever looked into his eyes and told him that he is a mean rogue and he must be punished for all the misery he has brought to countless humans and animals," says Senani, a photographer who was once kidnapped by Veerappan.

The bandit chief is a meticulous planner. The police say that it is this quality that has helped him execute his killings with precision. The Rajakumar kidnap was also worked out to the last detail. Veerappan himself admitted that in his cassette to the chief minister.

The police see him as a scoundrel who does not deserve a hearing. The villagers, who live in or around the forest areas, sing his praises. They see him as their benefactor. They have little faith in the politician or the bureaucracy -- least of all, the police.

Veerappan has made his millions killing elephants for their tusks, felling precious sandalwood trees, extorting money from quarry owners and kidnapping for ransom. He has ploughed back some of that money to help poor and needy villagers.

C Dinakar, Karnataka's director general of police, told rediff.com: "Just as the dacoits of Chambal are worshipped, he also is seen as a do-gooder. He has used his ill-gotten wealth to help out the poor by funding their marriages, renovating temples and so on."

Veerappan never went to school, but knows his basic psychology. In July 1997, he kidnapped nine forest officials. He kept them in captivity for 44 days. Some reports suggest that all of them suffered from Stockholm syndrome, where the victims start sympathising with their abductor. All spoke well of Veerappan after their release.

Over 10 years ago, Veerappan reportedly made a killing from elephant tusks and sandalwood. Today, that is not the case. Ivory has been banned internationally and it is now difficult to sell tusks. So Veerappan moved to the lucrative sandalwood smuggling. But now, good sandalwood trees are rare.

Which prompted Veerappan to extort money from rich quarry owners. They paid readily. That was the only way to survive in the forest areas. Now that there is no quarrying, hence Veerappan has graduated to kidnapping.

In the past when the governments turned a blind eye to his ransom demands, Veerappan had freed his victims unharmed. But this time, he selected a victim whom the authorities cannot ignore. He did it after meticulous planning.

"Rajakumar is not an ordinary matinee idol. If something happens to him, there will be an emotional upsurge," says B Bheemaiah, district commissioner in Chamrajnagar.

If there is a lesson to learn from the Veerappan saga, it is this: A weak state will pay, and pay heavily.

Photographs: Shiva Subramaniyam

This is the sixth of Ramesh Menon's series on India's most-wanted bandit. Watch this space for more.

Veerappan can be nabbed if you have the support of locals

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The abduction of Rajakumar