Tamil Nadu STF chief K Vijay Kumar chronicles the infamous day when the legendary actor was kidnapped by the forest brigand.

How Parvathamma reacted when Veerappan kidnapped her husband Kannada legend Rajkumar
news Book Excerpt Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - 09:30

30 July 2000

Veerappan waited patiently in the fallow fields, his eyes fixed on the farmhouse where his prey was having dinner with a small group.

‘Enjoy your meal. It will be the last one in a civilized setting for a while,’ he thought. As he counted down the minutes, he remembered his horoscope that had predicted, ‘The state will listen to your words.’

‘Let’s see if that comes true,’ he muttered.

The sky was changing colour. Finally it was pitch-dark. Veerappan slowly let out a deep breath and nodded. It was time to move.

The gang’s advance team, dressed in khaki and olive green, knocked at the door. Before someone could answer the door, they pushed it open and barged in forcibly. Watching from his concealed position, Veerappan allowed a smile to play on his face. ‘So far, so good,’ he mumbled and marched in.

As Veerappan entered, all eyes turned towards him. The occupants looked befuddled at the sudden turn of events. But one look at Veerappan and the shock gave way to fear and dismay.

Veerappan walked up to Rajkumar. ‘Ayya, polaam (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.’

‘Please give him his medicines. Don’t harm him,’ Parvathamma pleaded as her voice choked.

‘No harm will come to him in the forest. But make sure Krishna listens,’ Veerappan told her.

In the melee, however, the gangsters ignored her plea about the medicines. Later, through All India Radio, the family reminded Veerappan of it.

Apart from Dr Rajkumar, the gang also rounded up three more hostages—his son-in-law Govindraj, relative Nagesh and assistant Nagappa. Luckily, the driver was spared as Veerappan realized that he would be needed to drive Parvathamma to Bangalore.

‘Don’t try to raise an alarm or make any sound as we leave,’ Veerappan warned. ‘If I hear the slightest sound, I’ll act. Don’t blame me later.’

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.

In the four long hours that followed, and which seemed like a lifetime to Rajkumar, the gang made their prize catch walk about six miles. It was slow going, but they could walk only as fast as the aged actor. At seventy, Rajkumar was fit, but suffered from arthritis and diabetes. Veerappan knew better than to push him beyond his physical limits.

In the opposite direction, a frantic Parvathamma drove through the night, only taking a break in Mysore to consult her family astrologer, Bhasyam Swami. After looking at his charts and performing some calculations, he assured her that her husband would come out safely from the ordeal within a few days.

Parvathamma then drove straight to the CM’s residence, where he was woken up at about 3 a.m. and given the shocking news.

Krishna immediately summoned Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, DGP Dinakar and Home Secretary M.B. Prakash. Later, Transport Minister Sageer Ahmed, Chief Secretary B.K. Bhattacharya and Rajkumar’s son, Shiva Rajkumar—a Kannada film star himself—were added to the crisis management group. (In 2016, Shiva Rajkumar played the lead role of an STF officer in director Ram Gopal Varma’s film, Killing Veerappan.)

That night the men summoned by the CM met in his camp office in Bangalore. Steaming hot coffee served to everybody in the room lay untouched as the men listened intently to Veerappan’s tape. There was no talk of death, mutilation or torture. But the subtlety of the message was even more terrifying.

It almost seemed as though Veerappan knew he would have the audience’s undivided attention and revelled in that knowledge. It was both threat and theatre.

One of his first demands was that the government send an emissary to ‘discuss some of the problems I face’. He also warned against any dramatic rescue attempt.

As the audio tape rolled to an end, many present in the room exhaled audibly. A brief silence descended. It was broken by a member of the group who said, ‘Let’s be clear. Our priority is to get Rajkumar back alive.’

Within a few hours, Bangalore and the rest of India woke up to the dreadful news. Schools, colleges, shops, business establishments and even banks shut down for the day in Karnataka. Phone lines were jammed as people made frantic calls sharing titbits and speculations. Most people stayed indoors. Those who dared to venture out found that the public transport system had plunged into chaos.

The abduction of a celebrity like Rajkumar has a devastating psychological impact. Any police officer can tell you that there is far more economic loss involved in, say, electricity theft than in a street crime. But such crimes evoke far greater fear in the minds of citizens, because each person instinctively thinks: ‘It could have been me.’ When a high-profile person like Rajkumar is involved, people immediately start thinking: ‘If the state cannot protect a VIP, how safe is the aam aadmi?’

In such a situation, the government’s first response always is to prevent breakdown of law and order. The Karnataka government immediately pressed several companies of the armed reserve police into action. Luckily, there were no riots, though spontaneous protests took place across the state.

In a show of solidarity, the Kannada film industry announced that no films would be produced, distributed or exhibited in Karnataka till Rajkumar’s safe return. It was a heart-warming gesture, but as the days wore on, it took a heavy toll on the industry’s finances.

Media personnel, ranging from lesser-known local dailies to multinational TV channels, rushed to Rajkumar’s ancestral home. The remote village suddenly arrived on the global map, for all the wrong reasons.

CM Krishna, accompanied by senior officials, flew to Chennai to meet his Tamil Nadu counterpart, Karunanidhi. As the two emerged from the meeting, TV anchors jabbed mikes in their direction, hoping for a bite.

A senior officer said on camera, ‘Negotiations are a must. If we shut the doors on his (Veerappan’s) face, the safety of Tamils in Karnataka may be threatened.’

The officer had voiced the unspoken fear haunting both governments. His candour was appreciated by the media, but not by his bosses.

Towards evening, Karunanidhi announced that Nakkeeran Gopal, who had helped secure the release of the forest officials a couple of years ago, would serve as as negotiator on behalf of both the sates.

September 2000

Rajkumar’s fans threatened to storm the forests. Rajinikanth offered to go into the jungle, if need be. Anti-Tamil and anti-Kannada poster wars raged. Tamil Nadu claimed that it had shared a threat report with Karnataka. Pulled up by the Supreme Court for laxity, Karnataka clarified that Rajkumar had not informed the state police of this specific visit. The higher echelons of both the states were on tenterhooks.

Meanwhile, Rajkumar’s wife Parvathamma complained of chest pain and was rushed to hospital on 20 September. Rumours began circulating in the state that she was gravely ill and at death’s door. However, that was not the case. Stress and anxiety had taken a toll on her health but she was showing signs of recovery the very same evening.

Rajkumar’s family and fans were the most vocal in favour of negotiating with Veerappan. ‘If the government could negotiate during the Kandahar hijack, then why not for my husband?’ Parvathamma demanded. Further, in its affidavit, Tamil Nadu cited the precedent of the release of terrorists in exchange for Rubaiya Sayeed in 1989, daughter of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the then home minister of India. Such rhetoric only complicated matters.

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. In 2006, India formally declared that it would not yield in case of any abduction. Fortunately, the policy has not yet been tested, and one can only hope that it never will.

Excerpted with the permission of Rupa Publications India from the book Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand by K Vijay Kumar, the STF chief who led the operation to hunt down the brigand.

 You can buy the book here.

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