Veerappan is the poacher and bandit who has operated in the mountains of South India for decades. He started off poaching elephants, but soon graduated to the more lucrative sandalwood smuggling racket.
Two years ago, he made headlines by abducting Rajakumar, a Kannada film star, and holding him for 108 days until a hefty ransom was paid. Recent news reports indicate it may have been as high as Rs 400 million ($8 million).
Well, Veerappan is back in business again. Last week, he kidnapped H. Nagappa, a former minister in the State government. Ostensibly, this is to secure the release of colleagues rotting in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka jails.
But there is more at stake this time around. Veerappan seems to want payback. Two years ago, as the agriculture minister, Nagappa had supported aggressive action against Veerappan, and is credited with cutting his forces down significantly.
Today, in a changed political climate, Raju Gowda, a rival of Nagappa, has been elected the lawmaker from Hanur constituency. Gowda wants to lift the ban on granite quarrying that was put in place originally because the dynamite meant for quarries was finding its way into Veerappan’s hands. Gowda says that quarries create jobs.
Veerappan has become something of a mythic figure, surviving in the forest, eluding police, and continuing to thumb his nose at the system. The reward for information leading to his arrest has just been raised to Rs 40 lakh ($80,000), but so far no one has come forward.
You have to wonder how it is that the combined resources of the Central and State governments can be inadequate to apprehend a man accused of over 100 murders. Is it political patronage that protects Veerappan? For his part, Veerappan accuses the Security Task Force officials of brutalizing villagers.
It is hard to predict how this saga will end. The one thing that is certain, say some law enforcement officials, is that the kidnappings – and the killing of elephants and the cutting down of shrinking sandalwood forests – will continue until Veerappan is captured.