Brigand media’s hour of glory

It is back to square one again. It has always been the case with Veerappan, whose tryst with law never seems to materialize. Despite him having several changes of heart, friendly mediators and of course, a government at his beck and call, there, no doubt, is something in the forests besides elephant tusks and sandalwood, that is him there and perhaps something’s also outside the forests that would rather have him carry on life in his present abode. In any case his surrender appears to be a remote possibility on present sights.

With the hostage issue amicably ‘settled’, there is every reason for the governments and their one and only emissary to celebrate and cherish the victory. It was quite a relief to see the hostages back in civilisation, hale and healthy, and our thanks are due not only to the emissary for rescuing them from the jaws of death but also to Veerappan for keeping them. Of course there is no guarantee that the brigand will not indulge in such acts in future but we, and that includes the government, can rest assured that we now have a saviour who can use his good offices to prevail upon the jungle god for certain deliverance.

If one wishes to chronicle the life and times of Veerappan, one would do well to divide it into two parts, namely B.G (Before Gopal) A.G (After Gopal). During the entire B.G era which ended about one and-a-half year ago Veerappan was an enigma, known only through his exploits. The world got to know him as a savage who killed at will to carry on his business of poaching and smuggling. The several task forces set up to nab him could not even get within a mile of him and those who did get to see him face to face did not live to tell their tale.

And then came Gopal to explode the myth that was Veerappan. Hitherto unknown facts about Veerappan were beamed over satellite through an all-revealing interview and weeklies were full of stories of Veerappan’s heroics. The A.G era which we are still unfortunately in, was full of enlightenment not only for the people and the press but also for the government. It was a new and revolutionary form of Brigand journalism which encompassed in its realm all that is sensational, howsoever repulsive and anti-national its subject and protagonists were. We were told that Veerappan was not a born criminal but only a victim of the greed and avarice of men in high places; that he poached and smuggled only to help the poor tribals; and that he was undergoing a process of reformation and is only too willing to lead a normal life.

It was journalism at its bliss. Gopal had no doubt done the entire fraternity proud by making known the aspirations and ambitions of a man who is and will ever remain the last word in crime. And when he argued that the brigand’s was a fit case for amnesty we were expected to accept it and expedite it; so what if the brigand had murdered over a hundred men, poached over a thousand elephants and smuggled sandalwood worth crores of rupees? If the politicians (not all of them, of course!) can go free why not Veerappan, went the argument. Fair enough. After all Gopal knows Veerappan as much as Veerappan knows sandalwood, and if he certifies Veerappan’s case, there is no question about it.

And when the new, favourable dispensation agrees in principle to be soft on Veerappan is it not the right time to bring the brigand into the mainstream? Mind you, the idea is to bring him to the mainstream, and not to book, which is different. The latter means court, law, jail etc, etc while the former may be taken to mean a short stint in a comfortable ‘jail’ and then politics, the last resort of you-know-what. Of course we know that the tide in the mainstream is sure to take him to the legislature; the law-breaker would become the law-maker.

The brigand media would have achieved its greatest victory as a responsible fourth estate, the other estates having floundered and surrendered to the wily Veerappan.  When questions were raised in certain quarters about the wisdom of granting amnesty to Veerappan, the brigand was left with no choice but to kidnap a few ‘innocent’ men. The two governments were now in a fix; having jointly and severally expressed their administration’s impotence vis-a-vis Veerappan, they in turn had no choice but to turn to the one and only person who had access to the brigand and on whom the brigand has bestowed his confidence and to whom he would never say no. The metamorphosis of the investigative journalist into an emissary was just a matter of time. After all the path was a familiar one, only the role was different. And true to his profession the editor- turned-mediator did not forget to carry necessary video equipment to record for posterity (and not to commercialise, mind you) his parleys with the brigand on release of hostages and to negotiate his surrender.

It took the mediator just about three safaris into the dreaded jungles to ‘convince’ the brigand about the futility of his exercise, engineer a change of heart and get the hostages released. Of course the surrender issue could be discussed later, the life of the hostages being the immediate concern of all right thinking men, say, like Gopal. The civilised world and that includes the media of the non-brigand variety, were told by the emissary who by now preferred to occupy the centre stage on the other side of the camera (even his camera) that this magnanimous gesture of goodwill has to be reciprocated in some way. Had not Veerappan with this one gesture, erased all his sins of the past, and overnight become the darling of the masses, who are also incidentally, Nakkeeran readers? Of course, the brigand and his men may need a few crores for their routine expenses which the taxpayers, who again coincidentally are Nakeeran readers, can pay. After all even a brigand has to make a living and the amount is only a pittance compared to the money looted through scams and scandals. Readers must pardon my ignorance for I am not familiar with the lifestyles of brigands unlike the more well informed peers in my profession, but I am told that Veerappan has once again been very magnanimous and has asked only a small price for a big favour i.e surrender. And as is now the practice, he has given us time to consider the offer. Mercy be on us.

We the media of the non-brigand variety will now have to play by certain rules and ethics. We have to faithfully report whatever is dished out by the emissary, for has he got the sanction of the two governments themselves. If the governments themselves are unable to raise certain questions, how can we assume that we can? For example if one were to ask why the video cassette of the latest and last episode of the hostage crisis was withheld by the mediator for two days before being handed over to the government, we are only being paranoid. If we were to ask why the hostages were not handed over to the authorities the moment they were outside Veerappan’s domain and were in the custody of the emissary till he chose to hand them over, we are being too ignorant. Is it not well within the emissary’s rights, as a saviour of their lives, to also have control over their movement? We are not supposed to create such silly legal hassles saying that the video tapes, the hostages and all associated documents constitute evidence should the governments, in future, decide to harden their stand on Veerappan and that their custody with a mediator is not in accordance with law. After all the mediator is a journalist first and so must be allowed reasonable discretion to censor and display whatever he deems fit, be it to the authorities or to his audience.

Of course his relationship (cynics may call it nexus) with the brigand and his easy access at will to the brigand ever changing hideouts need not be explained even to the authorities for it falls within the freedom of the press to protect its source (and not the brigand). I were to be impetuous enough to call probe into Gopal’s links with Veerappan on the ground that press freedom does not allow for hobnobbing with wanted criminals, however honourable their intentions to reform are.

If one gets the impression that the entire episode appears like a drama with expert touch of a master script-writer one is only being too imaginative. If one has the inescapable feeling that the opposite of whatever is said appears to be the truth, like for instance whose emissary Gopal really is or who has really surrendered or whether money was really paid to the brigand, then he must better see a psychiatrist for treatment for hallucinations. After all faith is in the eye of the beholder and we must all learn to have faith in the good intentions of mediators, even if they happen to be journalists, and not be inquisitive, even if we happen to be journalists! In fact we must salute and say three cheers, one each for foray into the jungle, for the daring escapades of the brigand media and for preparing the world for the inevitable entry of the reformed, rejuvenated and rehabilitated Veerappan into our midst.

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Jawahar T R