Veerappan with Dr. Rajkumar | metrosaga.com
Veerappan with Dr. Rajkumar | metrosaga.com
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Eighteen years after ‘Dr’ Rajkumar was abducted by forest brigand Veerappan, nine suspects were set free Tuesday.

Bengaluru: It was a fresh lease of life for veteran Tamil journalist Nakkheeran Gopal, 59, when he managed to secure the release of Kannada film star Rajkumar from forest brigand Veerappan’s captivity.

The Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments had appointed Gopal as the chief negotiator after the shock abduction of the movie titan from his farmhouse in Erode on 30 July, 2000.

Talking to ThePrint, Gopal offered no comment on the acquittal Tuesday of the nine surviving alleged abductors by an Erode court, saying he needed to read the judgment first.

But, 18 years after the abduction, he discussed at length his role in resolving the ordeal that had two states and millions of fans on edge for 108 days.

“I call it the Rajkumar mission. After that, it was like I was given a new lease of life,” he said.

“I was thrilled that I managed to get the legend out alive. I could ask for nothing more.”

The abduction

Much of what happened the night of the abduction is well-known by now.

As the month of July drew to a close, Dr Rajkumar, known to fans as a man with a golden heart, was wrapping up a trip to the Lord Venkateshwara temple in Tirupati. Among others, he was accompanied by his wife Parvathamma, son-in-law A.S. Govindraj, and assistant director Nagappa.

On his way back to Karnataka, he decided to stop over at his farmhouse at Gajanur, Tamil Nadu.

He had reportedly just finished dinner when Koose Munisamy Veerappan Goundar, the notorious sandalwood smuggler with a signature handlebar moustache, and 15 armed men forcibly entered the property and accosted him.

Ayya, Polaam (Sir, Let’s go),” Veerappan reportedly said to Rajkumar.

After his release, Rajkumar said the brigand treated him and spoke to him with respect.
Veerappan was almost out of the property before he returned and handed over a video cassette to Parvathamma.

“Hand it over to the (Karnataka) CM, he will know what to do,” he reportedly said, “Ayya will be safe.”

Then, just as soon as he had come, Veerappan disappeared into the deep, dark forest with Rajkumar, Govindraj and Nagappa, as well as his band.

The interesting aspect was that in all the videos he subsequently sent, reportedly from somewhere deep in the Sathyamangalam forest range that abuts the three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, he referred to Rajkumar as “Periyavar”, a term used with utmost respect for an elderly person.

Parvathamma rushed to Bengaluru and handed over the tape to then chief minister S.M. Krishna. Veerappan had made several impossible demands of him — demands that remain secret to this day.


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The relationship between the two states was already tense because of the Cauvery water-sharing dispute, and news of the abduction led several fans in Karnataka to attack places with a Tamil population.

Krishna, then less than a year-old as chief minister, found himself facing a multi-pronged problem: He had to ensure law and order in the state, negotiate the actor’s safe release, and walk a tightrope with the TN chief minister to ensure the strained relationship didn’t get worse.

The Congress leader reached out to then Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, and the two met to discuss the situation.

After several hours of brain-storming, it was decided that Gopal, the publisher of a Tamil magazine, would be appointed the negotiator.

“After I was convinced to be a negotiator by both governments,” said Gopal, “I searched the forest area for 10 days. We lived in a hut for 10 days.

“After several attempts, we finally found Veerappan’s hideout, and we were taken to the place where they told me Rajkumar sir was kept,” he added. “We had to walk for several miles. At the time, I wondered how Rajkumar sir would have been made to walk such a long distance,” he said.

“I had been entrusted with the biggest challenge of my life, to ensure I brought Dr Rajkumar alive,” Gopal added.

“I was scared not because I was going to meet Veerappan, but because I didn’t know whether Rajkumar sir was alive. When I saw him in front of me, I heaved a sigh of relief,” he added.

Finally, after several rounds of negotiations, Rajkumar and his son-in-law were released on 15 November, 2000. Nagappa had escaped earlier.

Not the first

Although the most high-profile, Rajkumar’s abduction was not Veerappan’s first. In October 1997, he pulled off a serial abduction, but all the hostages were safely released.

On 8 October, 1997, he kidnapped two wildlife photographers Krupakar and Senani. The next day, Veerappan kidnapped 15 tourists, including scientist Satyabrata Maiti, visiting the famous Bandipur forest near Mysuru.

The moment the Karnataka government got wind, they dispatched six senior forest officials as part of a search team. Veerappan kidnapped them as well.

After 24 hours, however, he set free all the tourists except Maiti. Krupakar and Senani as well as the six forest officials stayed hostage too.

The nine were released 15 days later following several rounds of negotiations.
Krupakar remembers Veerappan as a “very intelligent man, but vain too”.

“He wanted to become a legend, one that everybody would fear,” said Krupakar.

Speaking to The Print, he recounted how Veerappan was so proud of his moustache that he would keep twirling it to the desired shape with the help of a small mirror he carried.

He also recounted how Veerappan once abducted a Tamil Nadu police officer just to help out an aide, Arjun, who developed gangrene on his leg.

Veerappan said they could not straightaway take Arjun to hospital as police “will hunt me down and kill me”. Instead, he decided to abduct the police officer and, in return for his release, sought medical aid for Arjun. “Such was his mind,” Krupakar told ThePrint.

Acquitted

Rajkumar, referred to as ‘doctor’ by fans, passed away in April 2006, while Parvathamma died last year.

Four years after the abduction, on 18 October, 2004, Veerappan was shot dead in a daring operation conducted by the special task forces of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Two other associates, Sethukuzhi Govindan and Rangasamy, died during the trial. The remaining nine were acquitted Tuesday in a case that stems from a complaint filed by Rajkumar’s wife.


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Setting the nine men free, the Erode court lashed out at police, saying they had not prepared “a water-tight case’’ against them. The court observed that there was not an iota of evidence to show the men worked with Veerappan.

The decision was received with dismay by those involved in the operation to catch them.

“The trial of the case has taken 18 years and shows how, in our judicial system, there is an abnormal delay in the disposal of cases,” said former Karnataka DGP Shankar Bidari, who headed the Karnataka special task force that nabbed Veerappan.

“This case should open the eyes of the powers that be that there should be a complete overhaul of the judicial system. In the case involving the operation (Cocoon) against Veerappan, we ensured that all the accused were convicted when I was in the task force,” he added.

“The defect in our judicial system has also contributed to the acquittal of these men,” he said.

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