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Shining pate caps crowning glory

Oct. 19: Suave and calm amid a rush of cock-a-hoop jawans in brown-and-green fatigues, K. Vijayakumar reported at his base camp as usual today. Only a piece of cloth ' wrapped round his head ' peeping under his cap gave away the unusual.

The chief of Tamil Nadu's Special Task Force had tonsured his head after returning well past midnight at the end of a successful operation against their target, Veerappan. He had sacrificed his hair 'in fulfilment of a personal vow' at the famous Bannari Amman temple near his Satyamangalam base camp, about 100 km from Coimbatore.

It is a shrine where Veerappan, too, used to make offerings.

This out-of-character show of emotion stems from his running battle with the forest brigand. Additional director-general Vijayakumar had his first brush with Veerappan as part of the special task force before taking over as the Chennai commissioner after Jayalalithaa came to power in 2001. He got his second crack at Veerappan last December, when Jayalalithaa put him at the head of the STF after his term as Chennai commissioner.

In his moment of glory, Vijayakumar thanked his team and the Karnataka STF. 'We worked as one hand, with one mission' we redrew our strategy and flooded STF personnel from both states in Veerappan's heartland of Gopinatham,' he said, about the close co-ordination with the Karnataka force.

Like a true warrior, he had words of praise for his vanquished enemy. He termed Veerappan a 'worthy foe, one who was not easy to get'.

The officer today put down the success to the STF's 'stunning, two-track intelligence gathering'. Inundating Gopinatham, Veerappan's birthplace, with informers and helping the tribal populace with medical camps, a move that wiped away bitter memories of earlier police excesses, made a difference.

The former commando worked on a two-fold strategy of winning the confidence of villagers and sharpening the intelligence network of the STF.

A home ministry official said this emphasis on improving the quality of intelligence inputs resulted in yesterday's encounter. Earlier, combing operations were undertaken on vague or delayed intelligence ' such isolated campaigns could achieve little in forests spread over 6,000 sq. km.

'He is someone who is willing to experiment,' said an officer who worked with Vijayakumar. It is this quality, some suggest, that prompted Vijayakumar to look at training women from the tribal belt to join the police.

Vijayakumar also mentioned the support from the chief minister's office.

'We penetrated into jails in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to get vital intelligence from some of Veerappan's former associates,' he added.

The icing was Vijayakumar's 'master plot' of putting an STF man in Veerappan's driver's seat and luring him into a trap.

His foe gone, he is looking to help the friends who worked with him through proper distribution of the reward on Veerappan's head.

After the killing of former minister H. Nagappa, Karnataka had jacked up the reward to Rs 5 crore. Tamil Nadu had kept its booty at Rs 50 lakh.

Vijayakumar said Jayalalithaa had suggested increasing the amount, but he had advised against it.

'We wanted the new plan to be kept low profile, but now the prize money from Tamil Nadu will automatically go up to Karnataka's level or even higher as the chief minister has already given a commitment on this issue,' he added, with a smile.

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