After killing 2000 elephants and murdering 119 people, this dreaded brigand is now
AT a time when l’affaire Rajkumar vs Veerappan is getting more and more complicated with cacophonies and cassettes floating all over the place, in comes a thunderbolt from Jayalalitha, the beleaguered former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, calling for the "deployment of commando forces to shoot down the abductor, Veerappan, and free the actor". Jayalalitha is fond of issuing statements and what she says normally is usually taken with several pinches of salt. But this reaction is quite weird. For, some days ago she had claimed that during her rule in Tamil Nadu, she had virtually eliminated Veerappan ‘s gang, reducing its number from 150 to three.
It is still a mystery as to why these three, which included Veerappan, were left untouched. The whole Veerappan episode and Jayalalitha's claim appears intriguing as well as confusing if one reads the narrative given to The Economic Times [August 8, 2000] by S.C.Burman, former Director General of Police, Karnataka: "The result of the combined operation of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu Special Task Forces [STF] and the Border Security Force [BSF] against the Veerappan gang, commencing in mid-1993 was commendable. By the end of 1995, the combined Task Force reduced the members of Veerappan’s gang from 150 to 5. About 40 gang members were eliminated. About 87 had been arrested and were in detention,facing trial. Veerappan was living the life of a fugitive, avoiding the police. He had lost his manpower and was living purely on the charity of local supporters". And to stress the point further Burman contended: "Since May 25, 1993, Veerappan has been living in the jungles of Tamil Nadu".
E.V.K.S.Elangovan, president of the state unit of the Congress, has publicly raised this poser and one can expect this question to linger on in the public mind for quite some time.
Be that as it may, the issue of deploying commando forces to flush out,capture or kill Veerappan needs an informed debate. Though the time may not be opportune now with the Kannada matinee idol a captive in the custody of the forest brigand, the debate nevertheless must commence in public interest.Not because Jayalalitha has raised the issue but, more importantly, to dispel the myth of the invincibility of Veerappan and the impregnability of the ‘thick and dense jungle’ which is his empire. Wittingly or unwittingly politicians, police and some persons in the media who are propounding and propagating this absurd myth are insulting and denigrating our security forces [the Army] which has one of the toughest commando forces in the world specially trained in jungle warfare. With a proper mandate, leadership and absolutely no meddling by politicians or policemen, a platoon [about 30 men] of these commandos can and will catch or kill Veerappan and his brigands within a matter of weeks, if not days. Juxtapose this with what we have achieved in over two decades ,after deploying thousands of policemen and spending over Rs 200 crore of the tax-payers’ money to nab Veerappan. We have only ended up in succumbing to his blatant blackmail !
The justification for deploying commando forces in public interest is provided in the narrative of Burman: "Veerappan and his gang have been known since 1965. Since 1984 the gang was committing diabolical murders of police and forest officials who tried to check the poaching for elephant tusks and cutting down of sandalwood trees. The gang killed about 2000 elephants. It looted tusks and sandalwood worth hundreds of crores of rupees. According to records, the gang has killed 118 persons, of whom 55 belong to Karnataka and 63 belong to Tamil Nadu. Among the killed are 31 police and 10 forest officers". I don’t think any further testimony is required to establish the public interest involved, serving which is the primary duty of governments.
A few days ago appearing in a Sun TV discussion, Lakshmi Narayanan, a former Tamil Nadu DGP, had expressed confidence in the Tamil Nadu police force’s ability to nab Veerappan. Pointing to the proficiency of the Tamil Nadu police in jungle operations, he referred to the force’s involvement in anti-terrorist operations in Nagaland during the sixties. But ,unfortunately, much water has flown down the Brahmaputra and Cauvery rivers since then and the profile of the TN police now is much different from what it was in the sixties. The first half of the nineties saw specially- trained TN policemen doing personal security duties for their supremo. They had no time, training or inclination to undertake tough and risky operations in the jungle. Though the present DMK government disbanded this costly and wasteful force , it did not build any alternate force to undertake commando-type duties. In fact one came across the strange spectacle of Chennai City Police Commissioner doubling up as the chief of the STF to capture Veerappan!! It will take years and a high level of political and administrative will for the TN police to put together and prepare a force to take on the Veerappan brigade. For now the top brass of the TN police seem to be happy and content with holding press meetings and reporting the flow of cassettes and the movements of the ‘official negotiator,’ Nakkeeran Gopal!
Coming back to the commando issue, I have been a witness to the competence of Army commandos and their efficacy in jungle operations at the India-Burma-China border against Naga militants equipped with much more sophisticated weapons than the ones Veerappan ever had. These jungles were much bigger and more dense and dangerous than the forests that Veerappan is dominating now. This was in the late sixties, which were the initial years of the formation of commando units in the Indian Infantry. I was commanding a Company of the 17th Battalion, The Madras Regiment, which had been assigned the task of intercepting, ambushing and eliminating armed groups of Naga militants either going to China to get trained or returning after training with latest weapons. Since at that time the proficiency level of Indian Infantry in jungle warfare was limited, we did face initial difficulties and had to sacrifice some of our fine men and officers. Realising this the Army Headquarters moved fast and introduced commando and jungle warfare training as a major activity at Mhow Infantry School in Madhya Pradesh. The result was dramatic. As young officers returning from this training took charge of platoons, trained the men and led them into action, the hostile outfits were truly on the run. This resulted in the virtual decimation of the recalcitrant Naga underground terrorists and paved the way for the return of peace and normalcy to that troubled state.
A commando merges with the terrain in which he operates. He survives with whatever he gets from there. For instance, in the forests he can move about stealthily and fight without cooking food for several days. He has to manage and survive on the insects, reptiles, fruits and fluids that he can gather in the jungle. And we have the best of these men always ready for action.
Episodes like Bal Thackeray’s defiance of law in Maharashtra, state’s inability to stop the massacre of innocents in Kashmir; the Gujarat Government’s insensitivity to assaults on Christians in the state and the Central Government’s buckling to pressures from all and sundry [like the Kandahar disaster] and the state apparatus’ inability to bring big- time criminals and the corrupt to heel have undermined the credibility and capability of the Indian State. There are already voices expressing doubts as to whether the Indian State is withering away. A former Chief Minister like Jayalalitha herself has given credence to these apprehensions when she stated: "I am sure the people of our nation will share my feelings whether these two governments [Tamil Nadu and Karnataka] are really necessary at all as they have, individually and in combination, failed to establish the rule of law which is the hallmark of our country’s democratic process".
Yes, establishing the
rule of law is the crux and essence of governance. Veerappan episode is
the real test for the veteran Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu who has
weathered many a storm and the suave leader from Karnataka who has a
relatively limited experience as Chief Minister. It is between them to
uphold the majesty of law or succumb to the expediency of politics. If
they opt for the latter, it will be one more blow to the raison d’ętre
of the ready tethering Indian State.