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Disclosure Part II: now on bandit

Chennai, Aug. 30: If it is the Tamil Nadu Assembly and the next speaker is M. Karunanidhi, better brace for a disclosure.

The chief minister today told the House that Veerappan was almost ready to surrender when he was heading the previous DMK regime in 1996-2001.

The disclosure follows Karunanidhi’s August 19 bombshell that Rajiv Gandhi wanted to send him as an emissary to LTTE chief Prabhakaran at the height of the Indian peace-keeping mission in Sri Lanka.

About Veerappan, Karunanidhi said the state government had then opened a channel of communication with the brigand to “nab him alive”, and added that there was “substantial progress” in the talks.

Veerappan, the chief minister revealed, was to be kept under arrest in a bungalow at Karunguzhi, near Chennai, for “a couple of years” while cases against him were settled in courts.

But the surrender scheme, Karunanidhi said, proved to be a non-starter as Walter Davaram, former director general of Tamil Nadu police, threatened to shoot down Veerappan if he was brought to Chennai.

It has been suspected all along that the sandalwood smuggler wanted to surrender and, though Karunanidhi did not refer to the issue, there have been allegations that Veerappan was shot dead in October 2004 after he had turned himself in to the special task force headed by super-cop Vijayakumar.

But officially, he was killed in an encounter.

Karunanidhi said if the court trials had led to a conviction, Veerappan would probably have been handed the death sentence.

The talks during the last DMK regime had taken place before Kannada thespian Rajkumar’s abduction but after the series of kidnappings, including those of nine forest department officials and tourists, by Veerappan.

Karunanidhi was responding to criticism from Opposition ADMK members today that his last government “had been soft on the brigand”.

He conceded that ending the Veerappan menace was “a necessary development and the DMK had no regrets about it”.

“It was a successful operation and I do not deny it,” he said.

The chief minister said Vijayakumar had called him in Kodaikanal, where he had gone on a writing assignment, soon after the shootout.

Even cases registered by the Jayalalithaa regime against him and R.R. Gopal, editor of the Tamil weekly Nakkheeran, over charges that money had changed hands in the release of Rajkumar, were found to be false, Karunanidhi said. The basis of the allegations had been disclosures made by former Karnataka police chief Dhinakar in his memoirs.

The new revelations came during a debate in the Assembly on a new police commission announced by the chief minister.

The third such panel set up by the DMK regime after those in 1969 and 1989, the new commission will be headed by former state home secretary R. Poornalingam. The vice-chairman will be Congress legislature party leader D. Sudarshanam.

By naming him as the second in command, Karunanidhi has tried to keep the Congress, which supports his regime, in good humour. Sudarshanam had recently criticised the chief minister over the government’s failure to arrest MDMK leader Vaiko for his pro-LTTE comments.

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