“On 8 October, 1997, Veerappan abducted wildlife researchers and photographers Krupakar and Senani. The next day, he stopped a bus carrying fifteen tourists through Bandipur Forest and took them hostage. The same fate was reserved for the six Karnataka Forest Department staffers who went searching for the bus. Though Veerappan set most of the tourists free the same day, along with three government staffers, he refused to release Dr. Satyabrata Maiti, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research in Bengaluru.
Maiti, Krupakar, Senani and the three foresters stayed in Veerappan’s captivity for a fortnight, before finally being released. Krupakar and Senani later wrote the book ‘Birds, Beasts and Bandits’ on their enforced stay with Veerappan.
These daring abductions were followed by a meeting of the CMs of both States in August 1997, which resulted in a nine-point agreement regarding Veerappan’s demands. However, some of the more outrageous demands were turned down. One of them was Veerappan be kept in a special camp in Tamil Nadu, where he would receive visitors freely. It reminded me of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who had got a jail built to his specifications, comprising a soccer field, a bar, a jacuzzi, his own guards and women of his choice. But Jayalalithaa, then the Leader of Opposition, blasted Veerappan’s request.
Men who were part of his gang at the time told the police that though his previous abductions had made headlines, Veerappan yearned to be stuff of the legend. And for that, he knew he needed to reel in a really big fish.
‘Anna, Rajini’s house is near ex-CM’s (Jayalalithaa’s) house. We can get him when he moves out to a studio. Or near Chola Hotel,’ said one man.
‘What about Stalin?’
‘How about Rajkumar?’
The name made Veerappan look up. Dr. Rajkumar was a legendary superstar of Kannada cinema and the recipient of many prestigious honours, including the Padma Bhushan and the Dada Saheb Phalke Award. He was regarded by his fans as a national treasure.
The gang began to discuss the idea. ‘His ancestral village is Doddakajanur. He has a farmhouse there that he loves. Our informers tell us he is there right now. He doesn’t like too much security around. Perfect target.’
Veerappan walked up to Rajkumar. ‘Ayya, pollam (Let’s go),’ he said. Then he handed over an audio cassette to Rajkumar’s wife, Parvathamma. ‘Give this to (then Karnataka Chief Minister) S.M. Krishna. He’ll know what I want. Ayya will be safe.’
Moments later, the bandits melted away into the darkness. The operation went off more efficiently than they had hoped, setting the stage for a 108-day hostage drama that gave sleepless nights to the administration of two States and riveted the attention of the world.
Interestingly, on all his tapes, Veerappan referred to Rajkumar as ‘periyavar’ or venerable elderly man. Rajkumar, in turn, described Veerappan as a good man. It seemed to be a classic case of Stockholm syndrome – a well-known psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy towards their captors. Studies reveal the longer negotiations drag on, the greater are the chances of a strong bond developing between the hostage and the abductor. Evolutionary psychologists explain this as an unconscious strategy by the captive to maximize goodwill in order to increase the chances of his or her survival.
The debate and dilemma about negotiations for hostages encouraging abductions is a global one. Even Israel, which officially follows a strict no-negotiations policy, released 1,027 prisoners for its soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2011.
Rajkumar completed one hundred days in Veerappan’s custody on 6 November. A day later, the Supreme Court questioned the States on the likely impact (of yielding to the bandit) on the morale of law-enforcing agencies and witnesses. The possibility of swapping prisoners for Rajkumar no longer existed. This meant that the emissaries had to appeal to Veerappan’s finer sensibilities and hope for the best.
‘Rajkumar dies in Veerappan’s custody’ – not the best headline, from his point of view. Riots were virtually certain to break out thereafter. So far, the authorities had treated him with kid gloves because he held Rajkumar alive. But if that precious bargaining chip was lost, the police and the army would probably descend on him in full fury.
Later, without much ado, Rajkumar was finally released on 15 November. In his trademark theatrical style, Veerappan presented him with a shawl, before releasing him, as a mark of respect. After Rajkumar’s release, there were several rumours regarding the payment of a hefty ransom to Veerappan. Conspiracy theorists expressed skepticism about Veerappan permitting Rajkumar to walk free, after more than a hundred days in captivity, without receiving anything in return…“
– K. Vijay Kumar, Veerappan, (Rupa, 2017).
The author is currently a Senior Security Adviser in the Home Ministry. He wanted the book to ‘read like a thriller‘ and it indeed does. Veerappan would not be dead without K. Vijay Kumar.