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Gunfire over, bandit walks away with new catch

Aug. 26: Reconstructing Veerappan’s latest abduction, a top police officer said the bandit was involved in a shootout with two constables at former minister H. Nagappa’s farmhouse in Karnataka’s Chamarajnagar bordering Tamil Nadu.

The officer said the bandit fired some shots, took the former minister by his arm and walked for nearly 2 km towards Kollegal town. Puttananja, the gunman of Nagappa, said he fired six rounds from his revolver but could not succeed in preventing the gang from abducting the former minister.

Veerappan left behind a video cassette and a letter which have been sent to Bangalore today. The cassette was apparently despatched through a worker, Guruswamy, in a farm house near the place of kidnapping. It was first sent to Nagappa’s family members and later to the government. Nagappa also gave a chit to Guruswamy to be handed over to his wife.

Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna refused to comment on the contents of the tape, but unconfirmed reports said it makes a mockery of the government security system by recording the kidnapping drama itself. The reports also spoke of a ransom demand but Krishna denied any knowledge of this. The contents of the tape as well as Veerappan’s demands should remain a mystery till tomorrow morning.

Police sources said that after being taken for some distance, Nagappa, who was not wearing footwear, asked the kidnappers to allow him to fetch his chappals and have water. The gang got him water from a farmhouse nearby.

When the gang reached a junction, it waylaid a private bus, asked the passengers to get down and boarded the vehicle. After driving about 5 km on the highway, Veerappan and his gang, along with the hostage, got down and walked away into the forest. Some reports said the gang entered the forest after seeing a Special Task Force van.

The area is around 65 km from the Tamil Nadu border, the officer said, adding that the terrain was “very bad”.

All vehicles proceeding towards Karnataka were being checked and squads of the special task force and police were deployed in various places, including Veerappan’s native village of Gopinatham.

Krishna to meet Jaya

Krishna said in Bangalore he would meet Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa in Delhi tomorrow to work out a strategy to secure the release of Nagappa. Krishna told reporters after an all-party meeting in Bangalore that the state would also seek the Centre’s “help and guidance” to meet the crisis.

Krishna said he would meet Jayalalithaa when she reaches the capital tomorrow to attend the Cauvery River Authority meeting convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

He would be in touch with officials in Kerala, too, since Veerappan is known to have operated in the northern forests of the state.

Karnataka home minister Mallikarjun Kharge would call on deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who would be here tomorrow to attend a party programme, to seek the Centre’s help.

In an apparent reference to Jayalalithaa’s critical comments, Krishna said: “We can discuss acts of omission and commission with an open mind later. Now is the time to act unitedly to secure the release of Nagappa.”

According to official sources, Veerappan has not made any demands in the audio cassette that he has sent but has accused both the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments of allegedly “deceiving” him by not honouring earlier assurances.

The sources said Veerappan has warned the governments against embarking upon any operation to free Nagappa, saying he would harm the hostage in the event of any such move.

Krishna has appealed to the people to display the same degree of patience as they did when actor Raj Kumar was kidnapped.

The appeal came after a Tamil Nadu government bus bound for Mysore was burnt by a mob near Nagappa’s residence last night. The Tamil Nadu government has stopped bus services to Karnataka as a precautionary measure. However, Karnataka state buses and private buses were plying as usual. “We have given full protection to those buses,” a Tamil Nadu police officer said.

Perceptions that Veerappan has links with some fringe political groups in Tamil Nadu have sparked a backlash against Tamils in Karnataka on earlier occasions.

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