Veerappan: The elusive brigand

Veerappan alias Molukkam, is a man without a face for his numerous pursuers. Rarely has a criminal given the authorities such a hot chase, for so numerous a years as Veerappan, that the man has become a legend. As far as the unwitting authorities are concerned, they have written his record in red initials. Akrita Reyar tracks down Veerappan.

Report : Akrita Reyar Veerappan alias Molukkam, is a man without a face for his numerous pursuers. Rarely has a criminal given the authorities, such a hot chase, for so numerous a years, as Veerappan, that the man has become a legend. As far as the unwitting authorities are concerned, they have written his record in red initials. Initiated into sandalwood smuggling by his mentor, Selvian Gounder, Veerappan made his mark on Sathyamangalam and Bargur forests in Periyar district of Tamil Nadu and adjoining Kollegal of Karnataka. It is here, that he still reigns. Veerappan’s career graph as a smuggler and a ruthless murderer speaks volumes in itself. He has killed over 2000 elephants, extracted 40,000 kilos of ivory, murdered over 200 people and smuggled sandalwood worth about Rs 100 crore from the forests of Mysore, Dharampuri, Salem and Nilgiris. According to a Karnataka government report, he has made an additional Rs 10 crore in pocket money by illegally quarrying granite in the M M hill forests. Following are his major landmarks:

  • 1965: Veerappan forms his own gang. Starts killing elephants for ivory and felling trees for sandalwood.
  • 1965–86: Continues smuggling and poaching. Acquires a reputation of a ruthless killer.
  • 1986: Arrested from a Bangalore bar and taken to a forest guest-house for interrogation from where he mysteriously escapes. This is the only time that police officers set eyes on Veerappan.
  • 1990: Veerappan and his gang ambush a sub-inspector and a constable.
  • 1991: On the pretext of surrendering, he lures the deputy conservator of forests, P Srinivas into the forest, kills him and disappears with a decapitated head.
  • 1992: In February, SP Harikrishna kills Veerappan’s gang member Gurunathan when the latter tries to escape during combing operations. In May, Veerappan strikes back, kills 5 police constables at Rampura police station. Harikrishna leads STF team and kill five more members of his gang. But pays for the expedition, with his life and that of sub-inspector Shakeel Ahmed and 22 STF members, in August.
  • 1993: 22 members of Tamil Nadu jungle patrol are killed by landmines laid by Veerappan’s gang in April. In an ensuing encounter six policemen and 8 gang members are killed.
  • 1994: Kills 5 tribals of Gaddesalu village to ensure that villagers don’t co-operate with the police. Abducts 2 policemen and a teacher in December and initiates his surrender offer. Puts forth absurd demands, negotiations come to an end. The combined Task Forces rescue hostages.
  • 1995: In June, three important members of Veerappan’s gang – Ayyan, Dorai, Karangualur Rangaswamy and brother Arjunan – die by consuming cyanide after being arrested by the Karnataka Police. Veerappan kidnaps three forest guards in November and offers to surrender. Demands ransom of Rs 3 crore. Negotiations break down and combing operations begin. Veerappan releases hostages and flees.
  • 1996: In an interview to Nakkeran, Veerappan offers to surrender, but under terms dictated by him. The governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu turn a deaf ear.
  • 1997: In May, a staunch associate of Veerapan’s gang, Baby Veerappan, is killed by a rival gang. In July, Veerappan captures 9 forest guards and offers to surrender again. Releases hostages after more than a month.
  • 1998: In December, Veerapan and gang attack Vellituurpur Police Station in Tamil Nadu and decamp with guns and ammunition. Major serach operations are launched for Veerappan, who lies low for a while and seeks amnesty. Inconclusive negotiations are held.
  • 1999: In April, Veerapan abducts three forest officials near Hogenekkal. Sends letters and audi cassettes of demands to the district collector.
  • 2000: In July, came one of Veerapan`s most high profile abduction - that of Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar and four others from Doddagajanur guest house. One of the hostages Nagappa escapes. After 100 days of negotiations through journalist Gopal, the actor is released. The final deal is still shrouded in mystery. A slippery customer It’s not that the authorities have been twiddling their toes while Veerappan has unleashed his orgy of terror. Police did come close to netting the hoodlum during the 1986 SAARC summit in Bangalore. He was arrested and jailed, but managed to give the police the slip. A Special Task Force was also raised in 1990, with the sole objective of nabbing the elusive brigand. But 10 years on, it has met with little success. Veerappan’s single shot, 1940-vintage .303s and even muzzle loaders have proved to be more than match for the Task Force’s sophisticated, military-issue SLRs, while his olive uniform and ordinary sandals or slippers have proved more enduring than the policemen’s combat boots with reinforced soles. Playing Robin Hood One reason for this odd tilt of scales could lie in the socio-economic factors of the region. He has been able to strike a chord with his fellow members of the Padayachi Gounder community and the people of the surrounding villages. The locals seem to have succumbed to him, partly for due to the lure of wealth and partly because of fear of death. Second, his familiarity with the hilly terrain has been in good stead. Rumours of Veerappan’s unholy alliance with politicians have worked as dampners on the police’s morale. Having large amounts of money at his disposal at election time, police personnel are convinced that political leaders form a part of the gangster’s friend circle. R R Gopal, the editor of Nakheeran, and the only journalist, who has ever met and interviewed the Veerappan, is convinced that the bandit can never be caught. He says, “The forests are so dense and he knows them like the back of his hand. It will require at least one lakh policemen just to seal the area Veerappan is in. And even if they do that he will easily go underground.” The options
  • Army Operation: Could stretch from three months to a year, involve 400 men.
  • Commandos: Tried in 1991, but the force led by “Rambo” Balakrishnan was ambushed and blown up.
  • Aerial Attacks: About 40 helicopter sorties have been made; failed due to poor visibility and fear that flying low would invite gunfire.
  • Inter-state Coordination: Petty politics has come in the way of joint action by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • Mercenary Option: Allow bounty hunters into the jungles and ask them to hunt down Veerappan.
  • Negotiations: Broken down several times in the past because of unreasonable demands. Which option the authorities choose and which eventually proves successful, is something only time will tell. But one thing is for sure, Veerappan has established himself as – a terror for civilians, mirage for Police, embarrassment for the Government and a stigma on mankind. And with yet another high profile abduction in Karnataka, he has once again shaken the country to the reality that …………Veerappan the enigma lives on.

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