New Delhi: For Veerappan, the infamous forest brigand who spread terror in parts of South India in the 1990s and early 2000s, politicians were just bait for ransom. But for his daughter Vidhya Rani, politics is her future as she assumes the role of BJP’s Youth Wing vice-president in Tamil Nadu.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Vidhya talked about how she continues to be inspired by her father’s “benevolence”.
“I am inspired by my dad. From the time I learnt to speak, I was told that he was a good man. He helped people. People told me to serve others, just like him. I am not influenced by what he has done, but by his helpful nature,” said Vidhya.
When asked if the name ‘Veerappan’ came with its own baggage, the 29-year-old BJP leader promptly responded: “Judge me for my work, not my name”.
Feared brigand or Robin Hood Veerappan?
Over the years, Veerappan, often referred to as the most notorious bandit in the history of the country, was accused of high profile kidnappings, sandalwood smuggling, elephant poaching and even murder. He struck terror in the hearts of many in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
Veerappan was accused of shooting down 150 police and forest officials and poaching over 100 tusker elephants. However, perhaps, he is most infamously known for the kidnapping, and subsequent release weeks later, of Kannada superstar Dr Rajkumar in 2000.
In 2002, he was once again the subject of headlines when he was believed to be involved in the high-profile murder of former Karnataka minister H. Nagappa.
But the life of Veerappan, who was eventually shot dead in an encounter in 2004, was much more beyond the sensational headlines.
Within the Sathyamangalam Forest on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border, which was his primary area of operation, the feared brigand was seen more as a Robin Hood-like figure for his Vanniya-Gounder community (a dominant caste in the state), than a criminal.
All the money acquired by looting was reportedly spent towards the welfare of his community. And this is the part of his life that Vidhya seems to be inspired by.
She recalled how she met him only once in her life when she was six years old.
“He came up to me and asked me to stay well, become a doctor and serve people. I am interested in medicine even now, but at the time I had the strong desire to enter the civil services. I even got an MBBS seat. I ignored that and pursued my graduation to apply for the civil services,“ she said.
An interesting fact that she revealed about herself was that she was in fact not named by her parents but by a Special Task Force officer.
Vidhya was born in a Chennai hospital after her mother Muthulakshmi surrendered to the police. Muthulakshmi is also a member of the Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi (TVK), a local political party in Tamil Nadu.
“My mother tells this story often of the officer who named me Vidhya Rani and said — Unga appa Kattukku Raaja, nee Natukku Raani (Your father was the King of the forest , you will be the Queen of our land).
‘Inspired by PM Modi’
For long, the BJP has been trying to make its presence felt in the political arena in Tamil Nadu and Vidhya Veerapan’s name is creating quite a buzz ahead of the 2021 Assembly Elections.
According to Vidhya, she joined the BJP in February this year after she was first observed by a local BJP leader, who was impressed by her social work in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district and introduced her to then-Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan.
Even though she is relatively new to the political scene, Vidhya said she finds herself very comfortable in the party as it gives her “an opportunity to voice opinions”.
“I met Pon Radhakrishnan ayya who motivated me to join BJP and continue serving people through the party. I am very excited to be part of the BJP youth brigade spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” she claimed.
“I plan to travel across Tamil Nadu and inspire youngsters to join the party. They should understand the welfare schemes the party has for all. There is a lot of ignorance about the BJP, I am here to break that,” she added.