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Dear Rediff

The Rediff Interview/R Gopal

'He looked and behaved more like an animal'

R Gopal
Why? Does Veerapan help the villagers monetarily or otherwise?

Yes, he helps them. They also look up at him as somebody like a Robin Hood. They are also scared of him because if they try to help the police, he will kill them. I must tell you once again, they are equally scared of the police too. We are going to celebrate the fiftieth year of India's independence next month, but those villagers do not know what freedom is. They are undergoing what others had experienced under the British rule. Is it not pathetic? Is it not a shame?

Does he harass villagers he does not have to deal with?

No. He leaves them alone. He kills only the informers.

How many times have you met Veerappan?

Siva Subramaniam has gone there six times but I have met him only twice. I decided to go when I came to know that he was thinking of surrendering. I wanted to find out what his demands were and wanted to convince him about surrendering.

Your magazine met Veerappan six times. Why is it that the police, that too the Special Task Force, could not reach him?

You better ask them that question.

The general public thinks there is a nexus between politicians and Veerappan. Is it true?

Yes, he himself has named many of them in our video interview. He said so-and-so had come and taken sandalwood from him. It is true that there are connections between him and some politicians. But we took up the case because we felt it was our moral duty to expose the politicians who were constantly lying to us.

What was the impression that you got of Veerappan when you first met him in person?

Gopal with Veerapan
Till then I had seen people like him only in pictures and movies. With guns and things like that. He looked and behaved more like an animal. The way he talked, the way he got angry, the way he moved, etc. appeared so different from other human beings.

He was very angry when I asked him, "Why do always speak against the police? Is it right to say that you will kill... this policeman or that policeman? The police is a part of our government and you should not criticise the police."

He pointed out to a man and said, "See, the police raped his wife, his daughter and many other women." He roared, "You are telling me it is not right to criticise the police. Tell me, how will you tolerate all this?" He was so angry that he began tearing the bed sheet into pieces.

But what struck me was his shrewdness and intelligence. When we were sitting there, a disturbed bird flew up. He stopped talking and instructed a man to find out who or what was coming. He understood something had frightened the bird. It was only a deer. He is a very keen observer...

I will tell you another incident. They were preparing tea for me. When the smoke went up, he asked his men to put out the fire. He was scared that somebody would notice the smoke.

Is Veerappan religious? Superstitious?

He believes only in God. He does a pooja of his weapons every morning and evening. He will move from one place to another only after looking at the time and the sun.

Did you not tell him to stop all the killings?

Yes, I did. Last May itself I told him to stop all his activities. If he wanted to surrender. I was ready to talk to both the governments on his behalf and negotiate his surrender. Then he gave me 11 demands... He had volunteered to surrender when Jayalalitha was the chief minister. But they kept it as a secret. In fact, then he was even willing to remain in jail for 20 years. It was the ego of the politicians that prevented him from surrendering. I cam to know about all this only when I met him.

It is like a chain reaction. If the police kills two of his men, he kills four policemen. He does not even refer to the police as the police; he calls them as demons. He justifies his actions by saying that he had killed only demons. Last year when he gave me the list of his demands, I asked for a promise from him.

"Promise? What kind of a promise," he asked.

I said, "You are killing at least two men every day. You should stop that."

"How long will it take for you to talk to all of them?" he asked. I wanted at least six months. He was not willing to wait that long.

I told him, "See, you have committed more than a hundred murders. Several policemen also were killed. So it is not an easy task to talk to all of them, convince them, etc. I need time. Only if you promise not to commit any more murders will I go ahead with the negotiations. Otherwise, I am going back."

So he made a promise with Vana Devathai (the forest god) as the witness.

Soon the Tamil Nadu police withdrew their search team, but the Karnataka police was more adamant...

How did Veerapan treat you?

You won't believe it, he gave me a new toothbrush and a toothpaste when I was there.

What about food?

Excellent. They gave me good rice, dal, sambar, etc. He had with him packets of instant dosai also.

So, somebody is supplying everything to him.

Not somebody, the villagers themselves.

R Gopal
Does he know what is happening outside the jungle?

He is up to date. He listens to all bulletins of the BBC Tamil news without fail...

Does he trust you?

Yes, I think so. That is because I never tried to exploit him. As a journalist my duty is to expose Veerappan and the government to the people, and nothing else. I have a 16-hour conversation with Veerappan on video. I could have made billions of rupees with the cassette. But we don't do that. Our aim is to make him surrender and leave arms.

Now that you are going once again to negotiate, do you expect success?

Siva Subramaniam and I are going today. I do not know whether we will be successful or not but we would like to see an end to all these problems.

One last question: Was it after you met Veerappan that you started sporting this kind of a moustache?

No, no. I have this for the last fifteen years. I am from Aruppukottai, a village near Madurai and in my village all men have such big moustaches. Veerappan also has a moustache like this.

Veerappan finds himself in a tight spot Karnataka, Tamil Nadu promises pardon for Veerappan if brigand releases hostages

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