The price for a brigand’s freedom

The cat and mouse routine has begun, again. Veerappan, the true hero, to quote an eminent central Minister has shown his true colours, albeit in self defence. Really, there was no need for the brigand to be paranoid about his security for the two State governments have long back given up the pursuit, having declared jointly that it is next to impossible to nab him. On the contrary the Karnataka government had virtually disowned him and the Tamilnadu government was busy giving STF an indecent burial, while at the same time hailing to the hilt the emissary, whose links with brigand did not invite even cursory attention of the authorities.

The attitude of the Karnataka government to the Veerappan issue has been, to say the least, callous and reckless. Having lost several of its finest officers to the wily ways of the brigand, it has of late shown a sickening disinterest in nabbing the brigand. This approach has been more pronounced ever since the change of government in Tamilnadu. Probably, the favorable atmosphere for the brigand that prevailed and continues to prevail under Tamilnadu’s new dispensation, had led the Karnataka government to think that after all Veerappan was TN’s baby. Its recent proclamation that so long as the bandit confined his activities to the Tamilnadu borders, it is alright for them smacks of irresponsibility and can even be construed anti-national. It is an entirely different matter that self respecting TN regime did not bother to protest this reckless statement. In all, the Karnataka government and its CM have been in a permanent state of stupor only to be woken up by the anguished cries of the hostages who are invariably its citizens, from time to time. And when it does wake up it looks up to the brigand-friendly TN for help.

To say that TN is brigand-friendly is really an understatement. The State in fact has a huge fan club for the heroic bandit comprising eminent men from all walks of life. These worthies which include Editors and former police officials, not to speak of men in power like the City’s father and his father and Central Ministers, have no qualms about felicitating the emissary while not bothering to tax their brains on how anyone can have access to the brigand while the State’s is police force has failed to get anywhere near him. They would not bat an eyelid, even if the invitations to a function carry the photos of the brigand in abundance, and the function itself turns out into a shameless exercise in flattery of the brigand. Some would even join the chorus, and sing paeans on the bandits exploits while reserving their ire for the person who genuinely tried to bring the brigand to book. We should really have another get-together to hear what these men have to say now, for it is their proclivity to look the other way that has culminated in the present situation, with chances of recurrence more assured now.

Ever since Veerappan moved out from the shades of the forests to the warmth of the Sunlight through his all- revealing interviews to the brigand media, there has been a well orchestrated campaign to project his side of the story. The timing of the first interview itself was sinister and it was generally believed that the bandit’s outbursts against the earlier regime was not wholly unprovoked. And when the new dispensation took over there has been a systematic dilution of the efforts to nab the brigand. No one really knew what the government was doing on the brigand front though everyone was aware of the haste shown by the sane government to hound its political opponents. The government’s moralistic stance of being averse to corruption flew in the face of it being soft and sympathetic to a bandit.

This Newspaper, through these columns. has already raised several apprehensions about the government’s inaction vis-a-vis Veerappan and its wisdom of depending wholly on the emissary for its negotiations with the brigand. At the risk of being dubbed black sheep of the profession, we dared to differ with the common perception of the fraternity to the entire episode. But do the government and my media brethren realise where the entire drama is now moving to? The brigand has now made it plain that he would talk to nobody other than the emissary. Let us now forget who the black sheep really is. But is it not a sad reflection on the government that it does not even share the negotiating table with the brigand, having surrendered its seat to the unofficial emissary. The government(s) have now little to do, other than it for the brigand and the emissary to work out another package, which will warn contain fresh conditionalities for surrender and release of hostages, more preposterous than the earlier ones. Whether they are accepted or not is a different matter and depends on the risk the governments we prepared to take; the sad part is that once again the brigand has the upper hand and is in a position to dictate to an impotent regime, which is actually begging for mercy. This time around he is not only holding the hostages to ransom, but also the entire civilised world. And the government has no one except itself to blame for this pathetic situation.

The STF formed specifically to nab the brigand has not been officially disbanded till date. Neither are they engaged in the pursuit of Veerappan thanks to the government putting them on leash. During the earlier hostage crisis, they were specifically ordered to keep off the brigand’s domain, after the latter objected to their presence. This message was conveyed to the government by the emissary and was promptly accepted, acknowledged and acted upon. But once the hostage drama ended, the government did not bother to activate the STF again. Instead, comes the Chief Minister’s flippant charge that the STF personnel were more interested in chasing tribal woman than tracking down the bandit, and so they are of no use. After chuckling over his own trademark humour, the CM however fails to spell out what he really intends to do nab the brigand and the only option is to rude joke that it is only the brigand who is luring all and sundry into his den and there is no sign of him coming out of the forests to reciprocate his government’s goodwill.

The Chief Minister’s remarks on the STF is enough to demoralise even the chaste of officers and make them think twice. The Chief Minister’s open admission of the brigand’s elusive capabilities is enough for the letter to dictate surrender terms. The Chief Minister’s deafening silence on the issue of pursuit is enough to embolden the brigand to feel free in the jungles, without fear of captivity. The lack of even a semblance of authority around him is enough for him to declare himself the king of the jungles, and enact the law of the outlaw, not only in the forest but also beyond. A favourable atmosphere has also filled his stockpile of arms. The gang has also, it is understood, improved its strength to god knows how much, besides endearing itself to hordes of admirers from the Left, Right and the Centre. And with no final solution in the contemplation of the government, both the States and Centre, the brigand looks forward to a secure run of the jungles, while taking all of us for a ride. And he is only living up to praise showered by his fan club which revers him as the lion of the forest.

Having realised its inablity to nab brigand the minimum the TN government could have done is to have shared its enlightenment with the hapless forest officials and tourists. Had they been tipped off of the government’s decision they would have at least stayed away. Having withdrawn its hounds from the forests the government should have also removed the baits. Now, with no one on the brigand’s trail, they were just sitting ducks waiting to be whisked away as hostages. After all was there not an open invitation for the brigand to do as he pleases?

And while we wait once again for the sordid drama to reach its climax, it is our fervent hope that the governments would at least now start governing, that the Centre would at least now intervene and take the matter off the helpless hands of the States. Also even now it is not too late for the appropriate authorities to ‘enquire’ from the emissary the trick of his trade that enables him to gain blanket access to the brigand at will. In fact they would do well to start recording the emissary evidence rather than reading his ‘investigative’ reports. It would also be of academic interest to know what assurances were given to brigand by the government and the emissary, as the former keeps saying that he has betrayed and the promises have not been kept. Also we suggest that the powers that be have a chat with former DGP Dawaram and other genuine experts on Veerappan rather than toe the emissary line, to ensure a permanent solution to the menace.

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Jawahar T R