THE NATION: RAJKUMAR’S RELEASE
Rajkumar is free, his fans are ecstatic but in the melee, the issue of Veerappan is forgotten.
By Vaasanthi and Stephen David
RAJKUMAR ON LIFE IN CAPTIVITY
In the end it was a bit of deception and his famed acting that did the trick. It was a still and hot afternoon inside the forest near Erode in Tamil Nadu. Rajkumar was sleeping when he was woken up by three of the gang members of Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, his dreaded captor. Immediately, the Kannada actor sensed that P. Nedumaran, leader of a fringe Tamil nationalist group, and his associates were back, yet another time, to try and set him free. He had been expecting them. He could hear the familiar voice of Nedumaran from where Veerappan sat with the rest of his men.
A Beaming Rajkumar
But then his ears picked up another voice, that of a woman. “A few moments later I was completely flabbergasted to see a young woman walk up to me, stethoscope in hand, saying she was a doctor and wanted to examine me,” he recalls. It was all a ruse. She was Bhanu, a quarry owner and doctor from Bangalore, that Nedumaran had got along. She whispered to Rajkumar in Kannada that he should put up an act of being unwell. “I got into the role and started acting quite sick. I even told Bhanu that my heart was giving me trouble when Veerappan was close enough to hear us.” Bhanu checked Rajkumar’s pulse and said it was “very low”, looking pointedly at Veerappan.
Today, safe and back at home, Rajkumar is convinced that it was Nedumaran’s sustained negotiations with the bandit, coupled with his and Bhanu’s playacting, that resulted in his release. And it didn’t come a day too early. Talking to a sea of press reporters in Bangalore last week, the actor turned emotional saying very often he would get quite depressed in the jungle. “I can’t believe that I am sitting here in front of you. It’s like a new universe. I still wonder how I spent so many days in the jungle. No sunshine. No people. Only elephants sometimes.” Rajkumar also said he was surprised that the press had got wind of his release so soon. “You were not supposed to know till today (November 16).” The idea being that Veerappan and his men would get enough time to shift their camp elsewhere in the forests.
No One’s Talking About the Deal: The actor and his family were however completely silent on the “deal” that Nedumaran and his other associates had brokered with Veerappan for the release. In fact, speaking to India Today, one of the negotiators in Nedumaran’s team, K. Sukumaran, Chennai-based secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Pondicherry, categorically said, “No money changed hands for his release.” Sukumaran said his team did some plain talking with the bandit, convincing him that after the Supreme Court ruling, there was no hope of getting the TADA detenus released-one of Veerappan’s main demands. The negotiators also stressed that the longer Veerappan held Rajkumar, the more tension there would be between Tamils and Kannadigas. “He seemed to understand our point.”
However, there are not many takers for this unconditional release theory. A lot of people reason that Veerappan would not have gone through all this trouble to get nothing in the end. Also, there are indications that the deal was sealed even before Nedumaran left for the forests this time. In fact, some sources close to Nedumaran say he had extracted two main assurances from the Government. Firstly, that the state would handsomely compensate Tamil families which lost property and life in the 1991 riots over the Cauvery water dispute. And two, an assurance that Veerappan would not be hunted by the Special Task Force once Rajkumar was released-a promise that state governments need not necessarily keep.
But deal or no deal, there was widespread jubilation in Karnataka once news spread that Rajkumar had been released. People spilled out on to the streets, burst crackers and distributed sweets. An army of Rajkumar fans, who had ringed the actor’s palatial house in Sadashivanagar and refused to leave until he spoke to them. Addressing them from his roof, he thanked them saying, “My fans are like my gods.” Below his family had gathered, relief written on their faces. Says Shivrajkumar, the eldest son: “The nightmare is over.” Male members of the family, all of whom till yesterday were sporting beards, having vowed they wouldn’t shave it off until Rajkumar returned, stood clean-shaven and beaming.
But more than them, it was Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna’s day to gloat. His gesture of sending two helicopters to Erode, where Rajkumar spent his first night out of captivity, to bring the actor and his family back to Bangalore went down well with the crowds. Even 76-year-old Abdul Kareem, father of inspector Shakeel Ahmed whom Veerappan had killed and on whose petition the Supreme Court stayed the release of the tada detenus, said he was happy to see Rajkumar back home. “I have always said there was no point in swapping the detenus for Rajkumar.”
Still, in all this happiness, Rajkumar remembered some of the bad moments. Like the negotiations that failed. “R. Gopal-editor of the Tamil weekly Nakkeeran-came several times but nothing seemed to come out of it. But the moment Nedumaran stepped in, there was a visible difference. In fact Veerappan himself asked for Nedumaran.” Rajkumar also said the worst part of the ordeal came when fellow abductee Nagappa, a relative of Rajkumar, escaped. “I thought that we would all get shot.” Veerappan was quite angry and his men tied up Rajkumar, Govindraj and Nagesh, the other two captives. “I pleaded with them to let Govindraj and Nagesh go. I said, ‘Take my life, I have lived it to the full’.” Fortunately, Veerappan relented and said nothing would happen to them.
So what happens now? Experts say Karnataka might go in for an operation against the bandit, especially as the Supreme Court has come down hard on it and the Centre is trying to thrash out a common plan to deal with terrorist activities. But the fact remains that though Rajkumar is free, so is Veerappan-out there in the forests, possibly richer, and as usual laughing last.
India Today / 27.11.2000.