Childhood ambushed in Sierra war
Paper guerrilla returns to bestseller
Lok Sabha clears Uttaranchal amid protests
Bangaru bows before Sangh pedestal
US hopes talks path will stretch to Pakistan
Ananth slips on Freud, Kafka
Coconut crash in Kerala
Dacoit lynching rocks House
Massacre probe team
Krishna faces kidnap jitters

Daru (Sierra Leone), Aug. 1: 
The rebel Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone has earned itself a place on a roll call of infamy that includes the Khmer Rouge and the Third Reich. To the battalion of Indian United Nations peacekeepers in Daru, a village near the eastern border of this West African state, the RUF is an enemy they encounter everyday — largely when rebels come to surrender their arms.

Daru is a four square kilometre outpost surrounded on all sides by rebel-infested rain forest. Many of the Indian soldiers here were surrounded by RUF guerrillas in Kailahun and almost all participated in Operation Khukri, which lifted the siege two weeks ago. It has been quiet since then, partly because the rebels have a great respect for the Indians’ fighting ability.

An Indian officer explained: “Until Khukri, the RUF derided Indians as all being Gandhians.” Rebel and jawan still meet face to face: every day two or three guerrillas walk into the two surrender camps on Daru’s outskirts.

The surrender camp has an armoured personnel carrier manned by a Sikh soldier whose pugree is coloured the light blue of the UN. Flanking him are two sandbagged machine-gun posts. Today a band of five RUF rebels has come to give up the bad fight. The UN gives them $ 300 for their weapons — rusty but workable rifles tied together with tape and rope. Their clothes are in tatters and they are shod with rubber sandals.

None of them speaks English, not even the pidgin that is Sierra Leone’s lingua franca. The interpreter, translating from tribal Mende, says they have fought for the RUF since childhood. Two of them, about 16 years old, have been with the rebellion since it began in 1991. Their lives have centred around killing since then. They are illiterate, orphaned and now weary. “They want to surrender because their huts have been burnt down, they have no food and they have nothing to show for all these years,” says the interpreter. The five faces are dull and unsmiling, a stark contrast to the liveliness of Daru’s locals.

The interpreter says it is rare for rebels of the class of 1991 to surrender. The records show a minor uptake in surrenders since Operation Khukri. In a nine-day period after the operation over 30 rebels surrendered, against a previous average of 10 a month. Of course, for the 12,000-strong force this is a pinprick. One Indian soldier in Freetown explains: “One RUF leader told me, ‘If I lose 10 men, so what? I just grab 50 children from a village and force them to join me. Maybe 10 will die, maybe 20 will run away. But I will have 20 new men at the end of it’.”

This cold-blooded use of children, including desocialising them by forcing them to kill parents or eat human flesh, has made the RUF reviled worldwide.

It is said that the RUF began in 1991 as the response of marginalised hinterland tribes to the oppression and corruption of Sierra Leone’s coastal elites. A parallel rebellion in neighbouring Liberia successfully seized power.

However, over the years the RUF seems to have lost its original vision of empowerment. Yet, unlike other rebel groups in Sierra Leone — and the civil war has bred many, the RUF has not degenerated into banditry. Many UN officers believe the reason is that the RUF has been taken over by Liberia and its rebel-turned-president, Charles Taylor. Taylor’s main interest is the diamond fields the RUF controls and the estimated $300 million in revenue they generate.

By the data the Indian battalion in Daru has painstakingly accumulated by questioning rebels and intercepting signals, it is clear the RUF is far from a ragtag bunch of villagers. It is organised into six brigades with headquarters in the northern town of Makeni. A brigade has five battalions of roughly 1,000 men each. Like a regular army, it is organised down to the level of squads of 12 to 15 men. The RUF also has an officer corps of colonels, captains and so on.

RUF attacks often begin with waves of children — a tactic that unnerved the first UN troops to arrive in Sierra Leone and which Indian jawans had to be psychologically prepared for. The rebel speciality is the ambush. One RUF brigade head, “Major” Thomas Sandi, warned an Indian officer: “We have 1,500 techniques to lay an ambush. Our ambush is bad.” Until Operation Khukri, no foreign force had been able to break a rebel ambush. The road to Kailahun is strewn with the burnt hulks of armoured vehicles and 200 corpses from an earlier push by a West African multilateral force.

The Liberian presence is evident in the upper ranks of the RUF. The military head of the RUF, “Colonel” Martin George, is believed to be a regular officer of the Liberian army, as is the head of the RUF’s mortar units. Indian UN helicopter pilots based near Freetown say Liberian helicopters are sighted along the border and land in rebel-held towns. Taylor and the man who trained him, Muammar Qaddafi, are the only foreigners the RUF rebels cite for inspiration.

The undefined border between the RUF and UN held areas has been quiet, if tense, since Khukri. The UN troops await further orders from New York City.

Even in this short span, Daru’s marketplace has experienced a small economic revival. A Lebanese businessmen even gave a positive response when an Indian officer recently asked him to open up a restaurant. In the heart of Daru is a large camp of about 600 inmates. They are all surrendered rebels or other social flotsam of the civil war who are being rehabilitated and trained in farming and crafts by non-government organisations. The camp is managed by Indian soldiers. Their influence is evident when the camp’s cultural troupe stages a colourful mix of Bollywood and traditional African dance for visitors — grass skirts flouncing to an energetic rendition of Mithun Chakraborty’s I am a Disco Dancer. It is almost possible to forget that the frontline of the world’s darkest war is only 500 metres away.    

Chennai, August, 1 
Challenge — The history of struggle of Nakkeeran bi-weekly in investigative journalism”. Such is the not-so-modest and none too elegant or linguistically correct title of a Tamil book, brought out by the Nakkeeran publishers themselves a few months ago.

The book has the English title Challenge, and the sub-title pithily captures the rise of a subaltern journalist to a position of some eminence, however questionable some might find the means.

Aggressive and undaunted, R.R. Gopal, editor and publisher of Nakkeeran, has notched up quite a few successes through his dedication and ruthlessness.

The book is a detailed, though self-promoting, account of Gopal’s many battles against the Jayalalitha regime.

He was the first to take on the imperious queen. His gut-level antipathy to Brahmins could be a factor behind his crusade. Commercially, too, it made sense to be seen as an irrepressible gadfly.

But he had to suffer serious losses when Jayalalitha and her men sought to crush him through every available means. Gopal carried on and hit back viciously.

His videotaped interview of Veerappan was one of the last nails driven into the ADMK regime’s coffin. The devastating comments of the smuggler aired on Sun TV, a channel owned by DMK leader Karunanidhi’s family, were a smash hit with the Tamil electorate in 1996.

The editor and his magazine owe their phenomenal success to Veerappan. It was serendipity that led Gopal to the bandit in April 1993. For some reason, the poacher wanted to show off and, perhaps, expose his political patrons and beneficiaries who had started disowning him after he spun out of control.

A local journalist was summoned by Veerappan, and his exclusive story and pictures were promptly snapped up by Gopal. They caused a big sensation at a time when the government was trying to deny the very existence of Veerappan.

To this day, the journalist, Sivasubramaniam, would not say how it all began, but Gopal keeps him happy and goes out of his way to make him feel comfort- able.

Although it was Siva who later took Gopal to Veerappan, the astute Nakkeeran editor has ensured that he hogs all the limelight.

Gopal’s tabloid journalism may not be found worthy of emulation by most, but the fact remains that in an otherwise Brahmin-dominated milieu, it is he who has been able to speak to the masses in a language they are familiar with.

By making a virtue of Tamil nationalism and Dravidian values, it is Nakkeeran which whets the curiosity of the rural Tamil population and keeps feeding it to the best of its ability.

A self-confessed admirer of Karunanidhi, Gopal does not spare the DMK regime either, earning the gratitude of his readers in the process. Whether he still has a good equation with Veerappan is debatable, though. At one time he was virtually selling the bandit everywhere he went, but after the successful negotiations for the release of eight Karnataka forest personnel in 1997, something appeared to have gone wrong and the expected surrender did not come through, despite Gopal’s fervent appeals.

Thereafter, the editor stopped expounding on his favourite subject. There were even rumours that the two had fallen out over a deal.

Even now, the DMK government is only taking a shot in the dark by proposing to send Gopal as emissary. Nobody can figure out what Veerappan has in mind. But trust Gopal to go all out on his mission, if only for a circulation jump by a few thousands with he himself deriving media mileage.

He could also be expected to ferret out something from Veerappan to rubbish Jayalalitha and promote Karunanidhi. But getting Raj Kumar freed is another matter.    

New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
The Bill for the creation of Uttaranchal was passed in the Lok Sabha amid protests from the CPM, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Akali Dal. A section of Congress MPs from Punjab also resisted the move, though the main Opposition party is in favour of the new state.

Defence minister George Fernandes told Lok Sabha that the panel headed by him has supported the inclusion of Udhamsinghnagar in Uttaranchal. But land-owning Sikhs, apprehensive that they will be “swamped” by the Uttarakhandis, are opposed to the idea. The Sikhs are also afraid that a change in Udhamsinghnagar’s status will bring their holdings under the Land Ceiling Act. Udhamsinghnagar does not come under the Act at present.

The CPM, the Samajwadi Party and the RJD have been opposed to the Uttaranchal Bill from the very beginning. Members of these parties rushed to the Well of the House protesting the Bill and demanded that the Fernandes committee report be placed in Parliament for discussion.

“A committee was set up and the members have a right to know what is in it,” demanded Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. During his tenure as Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mulayam had countered the Uttarakhand movement brutally.

Fernandes, sitting in the front row of the Treasury bench, kept mum. “It was not the government which had set up the committee. It was the National Democratic Alliance which had authorised the committee — it is a party and not a government decision,” said parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan.

But the members pressed for an answer from Fernandes as the government maintained that a discussion on the committee’s recommendations can take place only after the Bill is moved by the home minister. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar rapped the government for not informing the House about the committee’s recommendations. “If the House had been informed about the committee, the members have a right to know about its report.”

After 30 minutes of wrangling, home minister L.K. Advani moved the Bill as Samajwadi and RJD members rushed to the Well of the House. Congress members from Punjab walked out, defying the party whip.

After a discussion on the Bill had begun, Fernandes told the House: “I have had consultations with the chief ministers of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. I have also spoken to people in Pant Nagar and heard both sides on the issue.”

The defence minister said the Centre will do its best to set at rest apprehensions on land and sugar mills.    

New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
Bangaru Laxman has started his innings on a politically correct note: a day after being anointed the new BJP president, his first port of call was the RSS headquarters at Keshav Kunj in Jhandewalan.

Ostensibly, Laxman’s visit was a “felicitation” by Panchajanya, the RSS mouthpiece of which he was a columnist. But in his address, Kushabhau Thakre’s successor was keen to give the impression that he has reached this far thanks entirely to the Sangh, and not because he is a Dalit, as the media are saying.

“The papers are full of reports that for the first time a Dalit has been made BJP president. It is a fact that I belong to the scheduled caste and am a member of the Dalit parivar, but I have attained this post more because I am a dedicated party worker,” claimed the minister of state for rail- ways.

To underline the “non-casteist” character of the RSS, Panchajanya editor Tarun Vijay said: “For us, there is only one credo, one conviction, and that is Bharatiya. There is no caste, no religion, no society other than Bharatiya.”

Off the record, senior RSS functionaries were more candid about why Laxman was the chosen one, overtaking contenders like Jana Krishnamurthy and Venkaiah Naidu.

“What to do? The BJP has to react to the prevailing situation. It has to try and attract the Dalits and more backward castes into its fold, but no one can openly say this,” said a source.

Observers, however, believe that in its obsession with “signal-oriented” politics, the BJP could miss the mark with the move to bring in Laxman.

“Once he settles down in his new post, the party will work out strategies to project his Dalit roots. We will tell the weaker sections that the BJP is the first mainstream party to go for a Dalit president. The Congress may have paid lip service to Dalits but could not bring itself to give an important post to Babu Jagjivan Ram,” said a party source.

However, this strategy may not yield the intended dividends as Laxman’s caste is hardly a factor outside his home state Andhra Pradesh, even though he did head the party’s Dalit morcha for a while. He lost the last Lok Sabha elections to Buta Singh in the reserved constituency of Jalore.

Even though he officially downplayed the caste factor, Laxman did indirectly admit the BJP’s political compulsions. He said both in his speech and later to this correspondent that the party base had to be expanded geographically and socially.

“Certain sections of society still maintain a distance from us, especially Dalits, backward castes and women. We must reach out to them,” he stressed.

The new chief, who is expected to take over at the national council in Nagpur on August 27, said his first priority would be setting things right in Uttar Pradesh. The state, which will have elections next year, is crucial for his party.

“Uttar Pradesh is on the top of my agenda. The next team (of central office-bearers) I will constitute after the Nagpur convention will take up the issue of Uttar Pradesh. It is necessary to woo back those that have got alienated from us,” he explained.

To a question, Laxman said the Ram temple issue was not on the BJP’s agenda and neither was the leadership thinking of an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party “right now”.

While underlining the need for “strengthening” co-ordination between the party and the government, Laxman rejected the perception that the BJP was forced to play second fiddle to the government during Thakre’s tenure.

“The party is supreme, it makes the policies (of the government),” he stated. When it was pointed out that on the issue of Kashmir autonomy, the BJP eventually went along with the government, Laxman protested: “The moment the party voiced its objections, the government called a Cabinet meeting.”

On the disagreements on economic policies, he said: “Nobody is on a warpath with anybody. Everybody’s views are welcome.”

Laxman will file his nomination at the BJP headquarters tomorrow morning in the presence of the Prime Minister, the home minister and other leaders.    

Washington, Aug. 1: 
With the spotlight suddenly swivelling towards Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s September visit, the US administration is convinced that any peace process in Kashmir cannot be meaningful unless there is at least a semblance of progress towards normalisation of Indo-Pakistan relations.

Officials of the White House and the state department have already shared with India their assessment that Pervez Musharraf is not only there to stay but also that they expect him to deliver on the issues raised by President Bill Clinton during his stop-over in Islamabad.

The interaction between the Clinton administration and Musharraf’s junta on sensitive issues such as terrorism and narcotics has been on a scale not seen during the democratic governments of either Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif and is comparable only to Washington’s close partnership with general Zia ul Haq.

Besides, Qazi Hussein Ahmed, chief of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami party, the patron of Hizbul Mujahideen, was in the US just before the militant outfit announced its ceasefire.

He had met US officials during his trip. Although Qazi Hussein disowned Hizbul and condemned the ceasefire, it is yet to be seen whether his statement was tactical or genuine.

During talks here last week between national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and officials of the White House and the state department, the Americans strongly urged India not to insist on pre-conditions for any dialogue with the militants.

Mishra told the Americans that the Centre was willing to talk to any Indian in Kashmir and that the talks would have to be within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

The Americans, on the other hand, were of the view that India’s objectives would be better served if the outcome of the talks were within the constitutional framework: any insistence that negotiations themselves were restricted to the statute had the potential of wrecking chances for dialogue.

As for talking only to Indians, the American advice was that it was a question of semantics. No purpose would be served if the idea was that negotiators — who have taken up arms to be free of Indian control — should first swear by Indian citizen- ship.

The Centre’s attempt to refine its position on these impediments to dialogue suggests that the American advice is getting through to the highest quar- ters.

The visit of a “Track-II” delegation of five retired diplomats, including two former foreign secretaries, is being watched with interest here not only by the Americans, but also by Kashmiri groups for two reasons.

First, Salman Haidar, one of its members, enjoys the trust of Pakistan, which found it easier to do business with him than with any other foreign secretary.

Second, M.K. Rasgotra, another of the team’s members, is close to the Gandhi family and advises Congress president Sonia Gandhi on foreign policy.

Rasgotra’s report to the Congress chief on his return from Pakistan will, therefore, have a bearing on any consensus which will be necessary for implementing the outcome of any peace talks either with the Kashmiris or with Pakistan.    

New Delhi, Aug. 1: 
This Freudian slip would have pleased the Fuehrer.

Eager to flaunt his knowledge of everything German, Union culture minister Ananth Kumar got a wee bit carried away. At the launch of the German festival in India, Kumar sought to name several German philosophers, intellectuals and writers who have had an influence on intellectuals here.

Rattling off the list beginning with Max Mueller, the minister also mentioned Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud.

Kafka was a Czech who albeit wrote in German. Freud, on the other hand, was decidedly Austrian. The inclusion of these names would have pleased all those who believed in a greater Germany, but Kumar is unlikely to have impressed his intellectual audience.

Germany’s charge d’affaires Ute Banerjee Kommers said arts and culture open up hearts and minds. Cultural exchange, she added, is at the centre of bilateral ties.

George Lechner, commissioner for the festival — to be held from September 30 to March 31 — said the event has been organised as an attempt to understand “the roots of our culture which would lead to a better understanding of the strong cultural ties between the two countries”.

The festival coincides with the death centenary of Indologist Max Mueller.

India, Lechner said, is a land of celebrations and the festival is being held in the spirit of celebrations. However, the mood is not one of looking back over centuries but to see what has happened in the last decade. That is why, Lechner added, Karl Marx will not be a priority in this festival.

German Festival

In an effort to strengthen Indo-German relations, particularly in arts and culture, Germany will organise a six-month-long festival in India, beginning October 1.

Announcing this here today, Kommers said the festival will travel to 27 cities across the country to create greater awareness about the two countries’ cultural heritage and developments in various spheres of performing and plastic arts.

The festival will feature dance, theatre, cinema, concerts and exhibitions. President K.R. Narayanan and his German counterpart Johannes Rau will inaugurate the festival on September 30.

Ananth Kumar said the festival was being held in reciprocity of the Indian Festival in Germany and to mark the centenary of Max Mueller.    

Kozhikode, Aug. 1: 
Coconuts have never come this cheap, but the plummeting prices have sent Kerala’s economy into a tailspin, forcing planters to stage unusual protests.

In the worst slump in 10 years last week, prices of coconut oil crashed from Rs 5,875 per quintal in October 1999 to Rs 2,975. Similarly, copra prices which stood at Rs 3,780 per quintal, dropped by over 50 per cent to Rs 1,850. Coconut oil cake also suffered a similar fall, from Rs 900 to Rs 500 a quintal.

As the state government traded charges with Central agencies, coconut growers took the fight in their own hands to draw attention to the problems dogging Kerala’s totem tree.

Last week, a group of farmers jumped into the Arabian Sea with coconut fruits chained to their necks. Another group, led by a Kerala Congress faction, boarded state transport buses and tried to exchange a nut for a ticket worth a rupee or two.

The conductors, most of whom grow coconuts in their backyards, responded by cancelling bus services.

The slump in prices has acutely hit the hill areas of Malabar. Trading in towns such as Thiruvambadi has come to a complete halt, said Sebastian Joseph, secretary, Malanadu Agricultural Marketing Society, a major dealer in copra in north Kerala.

The government blames the Central procuring agency, National Cooperative Agricultural Marketing Federation (Nafed), for the drop in prices. Pinning the blame on liberalisation policies, agriculture minister Krishnan Kaniyanparambil alleged that Nafed’s decision to stop buying copra was a conspiracy hatched by the Centre.

The Central agency, however, argued that it had procured nearly 50,000 tonnes of copra at the support price of Rs 3,250 per quintal till July 18 when it had to stop buying as the state could provide storage space for hardly 650 tonnes against an immediate additional requirement of at least 4,500 tonnes.

Some economists believe that the slump is the result of the Centre’s decisions to liberalise the import of palm oil and allow soap and vanaspati manufacturers to shift from using coconut oil.

Though they hope that the crash could be a seasonal phenomenon, they see no beacon of hope. The economists said five years hence, with the proposed opening up of the market and the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka trade pact, the plight of Kerala’s coconut farmers could worsen.

Mumbai buyers are turning to Tamil Nadu — Kerala’s nearest competitor — for copra and coconut oil, they added.

While announcing that a coconut crushing unit would be set up in each block in the state, Kaniyanparambil urged Malayalees to increase coconut and coconut oil consumption to save their farmer comrades.    

Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Opposition protest over the lynching of eight suspected dacoits caused pandemonium in the Assembly today, drowning deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s statement on the incident.

The eight persons were killed in two South 24-Parganas villages early yesterday after they allegedly looted shops the night before. The villagers lay in wait the whole night and caught the robbers when they tried to slink away in the morning.

Bhattacharya’s speech was repeatedly interrupted by Trinamul Congress, Congress and BJP legislators. As they refused to let order be restored, he stopped speaking and sat down. At this point, Left Front chief whip Rabin Mondal intervened to say that Bhattacharya’s statement was in response to the Opposition demand.

Several members, including Congress chief whip Abdul Mannan, shouted back that there was no other way for the Opposition to make itself heard.

Bhattacharya rose again to continue even as Trinamul leader Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay protested against the statement, saying it was nothing but a copy of the police report. In the melee, Chattopadhyay and his associates walked out demanding the resignation of Bhattacharya, who also has the home portfolio. The MLAs then marched towards chief minister Jyoti Basu’s Assembly chamber waving a black flag. Police, however, acted promptly and closed the iron gate, shutting out the agitators.

At Chandaneswar and Kochua villages in Bhangore, sites of the lynching, an uneasy calm prevailed. Superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said 28 people had been rounded up so far, of whom 24 were involved in the lynching.

Five of the dead had been identified yesterday. The remaining three were identified today and the corpses sent for post-mortem.

A contingent of the Eastern Frontier Rifles has been deployed in the area to prevent further violence. The villages were deserted as the men had gone into hiding, fearing police harassment.

Hasina Bibi of Kochua village is worried as her husband and three children had fled their home after the killing. “I don’t know when they will return. But the police are after me,” she said.

State Youth Congress president and legislator Paresh Pal visited the area and spoke to the families of those killed. Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee will lead a delegation of MLAs to the area tomorrow.

Some politicians criticised the arrests made after the incident. Ganesh Pal, local CPM leader and a member of the zilla parishad, alleged that those picked up by the police were not actively involved in yesterday’s violence. “We must condemn the police for indiscriminately arresting villagers, including innocents,” he added.

Trinamul leader Shyamol Mondal also warned: “If the police do not stop harassing innocent people, we will have to move the human rights commission.”    

Calcutta, Aug. 1: 
Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya has said that a team of officials from the land reforms department would visit Nanoor soon to look into the dispute over a plot which led to the killing of 11 persons on July 27.

Amid cries for President’s rule in the state by the Trinamul Congress, Bhattacharya said 49 persons had been arrested in connection with the massacre so far.

“Rivalry between the Trinamul and the CPM did not lead to the killings. A few poor farmers were assembled by landlords to till the land forcibly,” he added, speaking in the Assembly.

Bhattacharya also said 10 of the 11 farmers killed did not have criminal record. He said it was a 1.06-acre plot of land over which the clash occurred between two groups of farmers. “Fourteen families had been cultivating the land from 1980 to 1999. On the fateful day another group of farmers arrived to till the land,” he said.

Bhattacharya, however, did not clarify how many of the arrested persons were supporters of the CPM.

He said he could not make any statement in the House on the killings as he did not have the details.    

Bangalore, Aug. 1: 
Saddled with an unforeseen crisis, Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna is striving hard to quickly bring down the curtain on the Raj Kumar kidnap drama, lest it should shake the foundations of his government.

Thirty-six hours into the kidnap crisis, it has been confirmed that the crisis is no ordinary event. Economic, political, and social activities in the capital and large parts of the state have come to a standstill.

Krishna had prided himself on rejuvenating the economy and rekindling investor confidence in the state in a short span of nine months in office. But the two-day total shutdown has exposed how quickly the bubble can burst.

By kidnapping Raj Kumar, Veerappan has struck where it hurts most. The actor has a crazed fan following across the state. Should anything happen to Raj Kumar, the state will burn.

Krishna would like to end the crisis as soon as possible and restore normality in the state, but given the intricacies of dealing with a maverick hiding in an unknown destination, the negotiation process is unlikely to be quick or smooth.

Going by past records, appointed emissary Nakkeeran editor R.R. Gopal is expected to take at least two days to trek to Veerappan’s hideout in the jungle and it will be another two or three days before he talks to the brigand about his demands. Chief ministers and senior officials of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will then sit together to discuss Veerappan’s conditions for the release of hostages.

Gopal’s dealings with Veerappan have remained mysterious and some suspect that he has often been the forest brigand’s advisor and link with the outside world.

Gopal, however, claims that he has merely won Veerappan’s confidence. He is contacted on telephone by one of Veerappan’s henchmen and told to come to an appointed place in the forest. He insists he is taken blind-folded to Veerappan’s hideout and similarly brought back so that he has no knowledge of the secret place.

Police believe that it is a charade enacted for public consumption, but in the absence of other means of credible negotiations, the authorities depend on the editor.

In earlier instances, Veerappan had put forward impossible demands like presidential pardon for himself and his gang, hundreds of crores of rupees for the rehabilitation of his followers, transfer of all cases pending against him in Karnataka to Tamil Nadu and “Z” category security for him after coming overground.    


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